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Playwright Jason Powell Brings Marx Brothers-esque Christmas Elves to the Alchemist


“For Purely Elfish Reasons” is the newest theatrical endeavor by actor, composer, and playwright Jason Powell. Milwaukee’s Alchemist Theatre in Bayview commissioned Powell to produce lighter, more kid-friendly holiday fare for the holiday season, a departure from the theater’s usual array of mature themed plays and musicals. Powell is best known for his original theatre creations such as "Invader? I Hardly Know Her" (2009) and "In Love Yet Again" (2012), both Alchemist productions. This past year the Milwaukee Opera Theatre presented his operatic feature, "Fortuna the Time-Bender vs. The Schoolgirls of Doom" and Powell performed in and wrote the text for Milwaukee Danceworks’ "Temptation’s Snare."

“For Purely Elfish Reasons” follows three of Santa’s elves, Jules, Lonnie and Dolly as they set out to recruit new employees for Santa’s workshop. It seems as though Saint Nick is having trouble keeping a steady workforce in the harshest climate on Earth. This marks Powell’s first foray into children’s theatre. The show’s vaudevillesque comedy served as a bridge between Powell’s adult and children’s humor.  

Actress Amanda Stellberg portrays one of Powell's Marx Brothers based elves in "For Purely Elfish Reasons," showing at Bayview's Alchemist Theatre.

“Elfish Reason’” slapstick humor is based on Marx Brothers films and plays of the early twentieth century. The elfish trio, Jules, Lonnie, and Dolly, are all based upon specific Marx Brothers’ characters; one with a thick Italian accent, one who never speaks, and one with a mustache, glasses, and a candy cane in place of a cigar.

“I thought about when I was a kid and my dad would show me some of the Marx Brothers movies, all the Harpo slapstick is very universal just because it is silent and because seeing someone falling down is always funny no matter what your age,” says Powell.

Keeping the show fit for children proved to be easier than Powell had first thought. Crude imagery and swearing have never been at the core of Powell’s writings, so parents need not worry about offensive material in the production.  The show is intended to be enjoyed by both adults and kids, with instances of verbal humor meant for older playgoers. In some cases however, Powell felt that he needed to pull himself back in order not offend anyone, especially in regards to religion.  

“I have references to religions, and it’s literally no more than naming them,” says Powell. “The Marx Brothers were Jewish so I felt that there had to be some sort of acknowledgment that these Christmas elves were based on characters that in real life were Jewish.”

Powell, who wrote both the script and musicals numbers for “Elfish Reasons,” decided to take a Marx Brothers approach to the show’s music.

“It seems like with film and children’s musicals you seem to sprinkle (songs) a little bit here and there,” says Powell who notes that his musical, "Fortuna the Time-Bender vs. The Schoolgirls of Doom," was almost all sung. “This show has got three or four original songs over the course of about 75 minutes.”

"For Purely Elfish Reasons" runs through Dec. 20. Performances begin at 7:30pm at the Alchemist Theatre located at 2569 S Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bayview.

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