At first blush, the notion of casting L.A.'s late poet laureate of the sordid in the role of Santa makes about as much sense as, say, erecting a snow-flocked winter wonderland display under the palm trees in one's front yard. But as director Josh T. Ryan's short Charles Bukowski sampler kicks into gear, the genius of employing the writer's hardboiled poems and prose as a caustic corrective to the season's commercially corrupted yuletide schmaltz soon emerges. The staging is simple. Guitarist Jessica Lynn Verdi warbles treacly classic carols as Ryan's finely honed ensemble cuts through the Christmas corn with scythe-like sweeps of Bukowski's decidedly unsentimental, scatological and misanthropic language. Highlights include the two-part "Death of a Father," in which the author's gin-soaked alter ego Henry Chinaski (a riveting Wasim Nomani) uses his father's funeral to enact some outrageously funny Oedipal revenge; Brian Robert Harris' chiseled rendition of a two-bit fight manager giving a breathless blow-by-blow of his brain-rattled pug's bone-crunching Pyrrhic victory in "The Winner"; and Andy Babinski, whose edgy, electrifying reading of Bukowski's selected sardonic verse savagely exorcises any remaining ghosts of Christmas past from the stage. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; through Dec. 16. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Starts: Nov. 11. Continues through Dec. 16, 2011