It is not uncommon for people to feel ready to be rid of holiday-themed music and entertainment by the time Santa flies through town. But as December morphed into January of this new year, Rebecca Schaffer found herself still preparing for the premiere of a new play in which Christmas figures prominently.
Before you chalk up the upcoming opening of "Ringing Out" as just a late arrival to the holiday party, however, know this: This feast of the senses won't taste anything like the traditional turkey.
"Christmas is an important part of the play, but at the same time, I don't think it's really about Christmas," said Schaffer, who directs the upcoming production of local playwright Josh Wagner's script at the Crystal Theatre. "Christmas is kind of a catalyst that serves as an instigator of what happens. But ‘A Christmas Carol' this is not."
If anything, "Ringing Out" will more likely appeal more to fans of post-apocalyptic speculative fiction.
"‘Ringing Out' began as my attempt to write a new Christmas story," explained Josh Wagner, who recently released his second novel, "Smashing Laptops." "As the script began to develop I realized it would be more about people and less about Christmas. ... We set the story after the end of the world, as dark and bleak as it gets. ‘Ringing Out' is about how things fall apart, and how new traditions can spring out of the ashes."
The story takes place in a bunker that Rick, a survivalist who predicted the demise of society, built as a safe haven for his wife, Kendra, and a young girl, Mandolin, whom they rescued from the post-apocalyptic destruction. Set 15 years after the trio descended underground, the play centers around Mandolin's search for a memory - something she remembers as Christmas.
Then again, the play might best appeal to Missoula's epicurean set. That's because the play was written and produced in collaboration with the Silk Road, the tapas restaurant that sits adjacent to the Crystal.
During breaks in the on-stage action, audience members at one of the four performances will be served a three-course meal designed by Silk Road chef Abe Risho.
First comes pork loin slow-roasted with Chinese Five-Spice, layered with scalloped yams au gratin and roasted honeycrisp apples, topped with candied pecans. Next on the plate: pheasant rubbed with Advieh and braised with pomegranate-walnut sauce, served with golden rice tadiq and pickled grapes. The meal finishes with house-baked cake soaked with rum and drizzled with dulce de leche.
"Ringing Out" is the second such collaboration between the Silk Road, Wagner and Schaffer. In late 2010, the same forces collaborated on "Salep and Silk," a dinner-theater production that traced the story of two men as they carried on an old tradition, meeting along the Silk Road between their respective homes in Turkey and China.
While the geographical connections between food and drama aren't as tight in "Ringing Out," Schaffer said that the new play still fits nicely into the format.
"The deepest connection in the play is the way that all four characters come together over food," she said. "A really important point in the story is when this outside character, who is known just as the Stranger, brings a pheasant down into the bunker as a peace offering. They all start to connect and work things out over that."
"Ringing Out" is actually the second locally written, apocalypse-themed play in as many months to premiere in Missoula.
In December, local singer-songwriter Amy Martin presented a staged reading of the first act of an original musical, "Reserve and Green," about a group of people who survived global catastrophe by holing up for 40 years in a Walmart.
Schaffer said she figures the parallel focus of the two productions isn't pure coincidence.
"I feel like all of this discussion and joking and pop culture surrounding the apocalypse is part of this deeper realization that we're going very far in this technologically integrated direction; and I feel like - as catastrophic as it seems on the surface - the focus on apocalypse is about that dream of going back to the basics," she said. "What is it to reconnect with the earth and nature and the fundamental human relationships beyond the machine? In our modern society, we're lacking that. So the imagination of the apocalypse is the imagination of the purging of those things that are keeping us from reconnecting to our more human nature."