Bob’s Holiday Office Party
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Rob Elk and Pat O’Brien
Photo by Ed Krieger
Every December for the past 19 years, producer-playwright-actors Joe Keyes and Rob Elk have untangled their strings of walnut-sized Christmas lights of our younger days; dragged their plastic snowmen, cardboard “Season’s Greetings” signs, and Ann Randolph’s tattered pantyhose out of storage; and included a truckload or so of Coors Light and a heaping supply of Cheez Whiz on their annual list of preshow needs. With all this familiar gear in tow and surely including an intrepid band of courageous elves to clean up the destroyed stage after each performance, they have mounted their incredibly popular Bob’s Holiday Office Party at some lucky theater each year, a feat that remains one of the true highlights of the holiday season in Los Angeles.
You’ve gotta feel the pain of poor Bob Finhead (played all 19 years by Elk), who is trying to adorn his tiny insurance office in downtown Neuterburg, Iowa—known by residents as the “Gateway to the rest of the Midwest”—for his regionally acclaimed holiday bash, thrown each year for clients, friends, and the mayor’s wife Margie Mincer (Andrea Hutchman, alternating with Dawn Brodey in the role), with whom he shares hanky-panky in the backroom at her Knick Knack Knook every Tuesday afternoon at 4pm. Bob has filled the downstage-center aluminum tub with copious amounts of beer and brought out decorations that would make the seasonal kitsch sold at 99-Cents Only Stores look like treasures from Cartier.
Somehow this year, however, Bob’s heart is not with it. Instead, he’s thinking of getting out of town and heading for urban climes: Des Moines. There, his dream is to become an inventor, perhaps starting with his newest creation, the Crapper Clapper (no explanations necessary or offered here). When the town’s former resident bullying victim Elwin Bewee (Nelson Ascencio, alternating this year with Bewee veteran Pat O’Brien) returns with a proposition to buy out his insurance business, Bob is torn between his existence in Neuterburg and the magic lure of the big city. Once again, just as a reminder, that big city would be: Des Moines.
His decision becomes more and more unfettered by reluctance to run from his life, especially when exacerbated by the arrival of the town’s opinionated sheriff Joe Walker (Elk’s co-conspirator Keyes), whose immediate action, centered on the office’s doorless bathroom, provides a chance for Bob to test out his Crapper Clapper on the spot. Joe nixes the offer for a beer since he has recently joined AA (although the Anonymous part is rather a joke in a town the size of Neuterburg), opting instead to swallow huge gulps from his ever-present Jack Daniels bottle.
Then there are the Johnson twins, LaDonna and LaVoris (Johanna McKay and Maile Flanagan), the richest farmers in the tri-city area who are so committed to their Tea Party ways they have Fox News tweets on in the milking barn. The arrival of the Johnsons, dressed in identical wear that could win top prize at any Ugly Sweater Day party on the planet, gives Elk and Keyes a perfect opportunity to update their hilariously inappropriate script each season, this time out giving the sisters a chance to spout out about Obamacare, Super Pacs, global warming, and missing George Bush.
Add in such rich characters as local alcoholic druggie, community theater star (you should see his Rum Tum Tugger), and Jeff Spicoli clone Marty (Cody Chappel, alternating with Mark Fite), who comes to the party not only for the beer but also to put in his 16th accident report for the year after totaling Margie’s parked car on the way to the party. Then there’s Margie’s husband, Ray Mincer (David Bauman, alternating with Pat Towne), whose relationship with his best friend Derek is as much a well-kept town secret as is his wife and Bob’s Tuesday afternoon dalliances in the back of the Knick Knack.
And just when you think all the over-the-top revelers are gathered to start spraying Coors and throwing Cheez-Its at one another, the friends are joined by the production’s two most delightfully off-center Neuterburg legends, both played by Bob’s legend Ann Randolph, alternating with Sirena Irwin). The first is the town’s resident cuckoo, Carol, who brings along her guitar and entertains the partygoers with an increasingly agitated folk song about her cheating husband. She is followed by Brandy, Neuterburg’s most available free pump, who joins the gathering when she realizes all the usual customers at her home away from home, the Tip Top Lounge, have left for Bob’s annual gala.
Under the direction this year of Craig Anton, Elk and Keyes’s raucous holiday treat has lost none of its outrageous humor—nor has it become any easier for the aforementioned clean-up crew, who each night must return the Pico Playhouse stage back to a place that would not be condemned by the Health Department. Without a doubt, this production has become a vital part of every Christmas season in our fair city—at least for anyone who enjoys delightfully tasteless nonstop laughs generated by a world-class ensemble of comedians unafraid of going beyond the usual holiday celebrating, assaying antics that fall somewhere between the Three Stooges and a Ron Jeremy movie. Beyond the traditional eggnog and the tired old carols about mangers and flying reindeer, Bob’s Holiday Office Party should be heralded as the quintessential ambassador of Christmas in LA.
December 14, 2014
Goodman Theatre at Kirk Douglas Theatre
Reviewed by Bob Verini
Mary Beth Fisher, Colin Sphar and Reyna de Courcy
Photo by Craig Schwartz
What makes playwright Rebecca Gilman so great is not that she writes plays on hot-button issues: racial discrimination accusations on campus (Spinning Into Butter), child disappearances (The Joy of Living), sexual stalkers (Boy Gets Girl), or the problems of child custody and bureaucratic maneuvering, as in her newest work, Luna Gale. (The Kirk Douglas is hosting the original Goodman Theater of Chicago production.) It’s that instead of exploiting any of those issues in the manner of a knockoff TV movie, she uses them as a jumping-off point for something much more robust and stinging. Each play goes far beyond its fundamental conceit, and her work always surprises.
One of Gilman’s pet themes is action in the face of uncertainty. Her protagonists are trying desperately to find out the truth about this accusation or that new acquaintance. But when they think they’ve got it all figured out and take steps accordingly, the result tends to be a total cock-up. “The truth,” after all, is rarely clear-cut and almost always in the eye of the beholder.
All of which makes for absorbing drama, not to mention serving as a rich metaphor for America in the 21st century. Our social and political (and even personal) crises, today, seem so much more confusing and complicated than in bygone days, don’t they? Gilman has her finger squarely on the pulse of modern absurdity.
Few of her protagonists battle personal and official absurdity quite so feverishly as Caroline Cox (Mary Beth Fisher), the child welfare case officer at the heart of Luna Gale. In her 50s, Caroline remains passionate about protecting kids and making their lives right, but the obstacles are starting to mount up. Her ambitious, narrow-minded supervisor (Erik Hellman) clashes with her in style and substance. She can’t figure out whether two unwed parents hooked on meth (Reyna de Courcy and Colin Sphar) are redeemable or a threat to their infant daughter. Nor can she be sure the baby’s grandmother (Jordan Baker) is a more fit guardian.
In the “recent success” department, a young woman (Melissa DuPrey) newly “emancipated” from foster care, and seemingly successfully launched in college, may not be quite as stable as she appears. Most of all, Caroline is confounded by The System— a morass of rules and forms and procedures that offers too few resources, and presents too many contradictory choices, for anyone’s comfort.
Still, a precious, vulnerable child is at stake, and the fate of baby Luna will hinge on how effectively Caroline can navigate the difficult waters in which playwright Gilman has placed her.
The plot gets into the clashes of devout belief and atheism, as well as accusations of past sexual abuse and standards of professional conduct. So much is thrown into the hopper that occasionally you sense Gilman deliberately stacking the deck, rather than letting the plot developments evolve naturally. But director Robert Falls’s firm command of pacing, and Fisher’s extraordinary depth of intellect and feeling, keep the theatrical event compelling and focused.
December 7, 2014
Dec. 2–21. 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Free parking underneath City Hall, immediately south of the theater. Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30 pm. $25–55. (213) 628-2772.
The following have generously supported ArtsInLA.com....
Up & Running Arts Management and Consultants
Tell them you read about it on ArtsInLA.com
...and contact us at info@ArtsInLA.com!
...or tweet us at @ArtsInLAcom (no dot)!
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Amanda Blake Davis and Robyn Norris
Sometimes theater is about humankind’s greatest achievers. Sometimes it’s about supremely tragic figures. And sometimes, as with this show, it’s about the rest of us.
A group of Second City’s fine performers went off piste and conducted a social experiment. After Robyn’s (Robyn Norris) friend posted a profile on a dating site and asked Robyn to check it over, Robyn set up an account to access the site. Robyn created the outlandish profile of an admittedly “crazy-insane person” she named TracyLovesCats. A shockingly large number of men—and women—responded, begging for various forms of contact with “Tracy.”
Norris’s fellow troupe members Chris Alvarado, Rob Belushi, Amanda Blake Davis, Kate Duffy, and Bob Ladewig joined in, posting outrageous profiles no one could possibly think were anything other than a joke. These performers’ “sketch” show, Undateable, re-enacts verbatim the heartfelt responses by real, everyday people to these perverse personals.
So, even though Rob (Belushi) pushed the intimacy-phobic envelope with DoorSlamEric, women think Eric is dateable. And although PioneerInABox (Kate Duffy) gets busted (she claims to function as if in the 1860s, yet she’s online), she manages to lure interest. Even Amanda’s (Blake Davis) age-questionable Old4U75 appeals to a prospective beau.
The show, a fascinating concept, is well-structured and is imaginatively directed by Frank Caeti. It is also, of course, hilarious, though a strong strain of sympathy runs through it. And even though the show has been running for months, the performers have fresh energy. These performers are more interested in telling their story than in “being funny,” so the laughs come from the audience’s self-recognition and not from any obnoxious stage-hogging shenanigans.
The troupe sings and dances—and not badly—to enhance several of their “scientific” points about romantic behavior. A few minutes of improv at the end of the show reflect the performers’ well-honed chops.
Locational cautions: The venue is in Hollywood where street parking has a two-hour limit, metered until midnight on Fridays. The show is a mere one hour, but it undoubtedly will start a few minutes late. In addition, the theater is upstairs, and the site has no elevator. But if you’re swift and spry, head on up there for a dose of reality. It will probably provide you with more than several hearty belly laughs. It might also make you weep for mankind.
August 19, 2013
for theater in 2013
Who says critics don’t like
anything? Our theater critics chose their tops of 2013, from best
production through best fight choreography, and the crossover among our
choices gave rise to a surprisingly large list.
And so we have decided to inaugurate our Sage Awards—named for the
obvious reference to the wisdom we hope for, but also for the plant that
covers the Los Angeles area, as we do.
Congratulations to the Sage Award winners, and we hope to share more great theater in 2014.
Ah, Wilderness!, Actors Co-op
El Grande de Coca Cola, Ruskin Group Theatre
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre
One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine
Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre
The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre
The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of
Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German
Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre
Jennifer Haley, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre
Bruce Norris, A Parallelogram, Mark Taper Forum
Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine
Christopher Shinn, Dying City, Rogue Machine
Jackie Sibblies Drury, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation
About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa From the
German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre
David Ives, The Liar, Antaeus Company
Nancy Keystone, Alcestis, The Theatre @ Boston Court
Jessica Kubzansky, R II, The Theatre @ Boston Court
Joe Iconis, The Black Suits, Kirk Douglas Theatre
John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre
Matthew McCray, Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre
Michael Peretzian, Dying City, Rogue Machine
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Ken Sawyer, The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre
Dennis Castellano, The Fantasticks, South Coast Repertory
Eric Heinly, A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream, Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre
Ross Seligman, One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse
Robyn Wallace, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater
Rob Ashford, Evita, Pantages Theatre
Matthew Bourne, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre
Lee Martino, Nuttin’ but Hutton, NoHo Arts Center
Arlene Phillips, The Wizard of Oz, Pantages Theatre
Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre
Kelly Todd, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater
Ken Merckx, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Adrian W. Jones, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre
Keith Mitchell, Billy & Ray, Falcon Theatre
Allen Moyer, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Jeanine A. Ringer, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Thomas A. Walsh, Annapurna, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Evidence Room, at Odyssey Theatre
Ken Booth, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Paule Constable, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre
Christopher Kuhl, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre
David Lander, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Justin Townsend, One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse
Angela Balogh Calin, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Lez Brotherston, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre
Michael Krass, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Jonathan Snipes, Wait Until Dark, Geffen Playhouse
PERFORMANCE IN A (PRIMARILY) STRAIGHT PLAY
Mark Bramhall (grandfather), Walking the Tightrope, 24th STreet Theatre
Phil Crowley (Nat Miller, father), Ah, Wilderness!, Actors Co-Op
Jason Dechert (young Pericles and pandar), Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Arye Gross (Mr. Sipos), Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center
Robert Lesser (lawyer/Greek chorus), A View From the Bridge, Pacific Resident Theater
Dakin Matthews (Doyle), The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre
Seth Numrich (Eli), Slipping, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at Lillian Theatre
Deborah Strang (narrator), Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
Paige Lindsey White (Esme the granddaughter), Walking the Tightrope, 24th STreet Theatre
PERFORMANCE IN A (PRIMARILY) MUSICAL PRODUCTION
Sabrina Elayne Carten (Blues Singer), One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse
Nate Dendy (The Mute), The Fantasticks, South Coast Repertory
Mary Bridget Davies (Janis), One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse
Jamie McKnight (Scarecrow), The Wizard of Oz, Pantages Theatre
Josh Young (Che), Evita, Pantages Theatre
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse, Mark Taper Forum
The Katrina Comedy Fest, Bayou Playhouse and Flambeaux Productions at Lounge Theatre: Peggy Blow, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder***, Judy Jean Berns, L. Trey Wilson, and Jan Munroe
One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine: Giovanni Adams, Kevin Daniels, Jason Delane, Matt Jones, Ty Jones, Jason E. Kelley, Burl Moseley, and Jah Shams
Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre: Melina
Bielefelt, Sharyn Gabriel, Matt Kirkwood, Michael Nehring, Gary Patent,
Gavin Peretti, Sarah Roseberg, Kiff Scholl, Dan Via, and Alexander
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre: Johanna
Chase, Paul Haitkin, Michael Hanson, Elizabeth Herron, Carl J. Johnson,
Che Landon, Ed F. Martin, Ann Noble, Dylan Seaton, Christine Sloane,
and Paul Witten
The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre: Gilbert
L. Bailey II, David Bazemore, Ayanna Berkshire, Shavey Brown,
Christopher James Culberson, Joshua Henry, Trent Armand Kendall, Max
Kumangai, Hal Linden, JC Montgomery, Justin Prescott, Clinton Roane,
Cedric Sanders, Deandre Sevon, Christian Dante White, and C. Kelly
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of
Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German
Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre: Daniel Bess, Julanne Chidi Hill, Joe Holt, Phil LaMarr, Rebecca Mozo, and John Sloan
***Travis Michael Holder reviews for ArtsInLA.com. He did not nominate himself, nor did he nominate his show.
The voting theater critics of ArtsInLA.com: Travis Michael Holder, Dany
Margolies, Julio Martinez, Dink O’Neal, Melinda Schupmann, and Bob
January 5, 2014