There is at least one theater in Minnesota that is not trying to be “relevant,” or “important.” They just want to get people in the door and show them a good time. In fact, that is exactly their mission and it appears to be working. A full house guffawed their way through “Bob’s Holiday Office Party” for the opening at Camp Bar and Cabaret. Produced by Actors Theater of Minnesota and directed by John Haynes, this show is just one of the lighthearted entertainments currently running for the company.
In the small town of Neuterberg — presumably in Iowa — Bob, the local insurance agent, has invited his friends (who are also his clients) to his annual Christmas party – potluck, of course, with a cooler full of beer and a shelf of cheap booze. They are: the swishy mayor Roy Mincer (David Beukema), who’s been sober for six whole days, and his bizarrely glamorous wife, Marjorie (Meisha Johnson) who’s in a well-known affair with Bob; twin sisters LaDonna and LaVoris Johnson (Heidi Fellner and Debra Berger), who are rich farmers, arrive on a combine and make animal noises; Sheriff Joe (Tim Dybevik) who’s as ridiculously redneck as any Southern stereotype and fiercely protective of his town; Brandy, the town floosy and Carol the pastor’s hysterical wife (both played by Deanne McDonald); the happy stoner (Kevin McLaughlin); and the title role, played by Charles Fraser.
The nasty, nerdy kid who nobody liked, Elwin Bewee (Pat O’Brien), has turned into a successful entrepreneur and comes back to basically buy up the town, starting with Bob’s office building, and get back at everybody who made his growing up years miserable. Bob is tempted by the offer, since he fancies himself an inventor and wants to go to school in Des Moines. The town, however, clearly depends on him, since he appears to be the only reasonably sane person in it. And that’s all the plot this inflated sketch comedy needs.
What really makes this work is clever writing that never lingers on a silly joke too long – that and broadly drawn characters (which seems like a profound understatement). At its heart this is improv-based and stands or falls on the strength of each actor’s ability to launch a character solid enough to hold his or her own in the melee.
It’s silly, sloppy, a little raunchy and so far over-the-top that you would actually have to try not to laugh. But regardless of how you feel about this style of theater, one thing is unmistakable: it takes a skilled ensemble to rise above unbearably corny and pull it off – and they do. Think of your favorite Saturday Night Live characters. Some work better than others, but once you lift a show to this frenetic plane, everyone pretty much has to function there. (However, I think it would have been a clever turn for McLaughlin to play Marty as more like Carlin’s laid-back hippie-dippie weatherman and less just plain stupid, albeit endearing.)
The show is a natural fit for local audiences in one way for sure. It was written by natives of the Midwest, Joe Keyes and Rob Elk, who continue to update the show with timely politically incorrect material. Their production in Los Angeles, where the show originated several years ago, has had a long-running following. Special material was contributed by Mark Fite for this production.
If you’re looking for some laughs in a crowded and jovial cabaret setting, this is it. It’s plain, unadulterated fun. The show runs through December 31.