Our Perfect Holiday
A less than perfect ‘Holiday’
|Strangeloop Theatre i/a/w Chemically Imbalanced Comedy presents|
|Our Perfect Holiday|
Review by Joy Campbell
Mary (Carrie Campana) and Kirk (Ben Campana) are expecting their first baby. Wishing to spend their last Christmas as a duo alone with each other, they’ve sent out excuses that will ensure they aren’t bothered by family and friends. With a hired musician (Dustin Spence) to play and sing for them privately, and a lineup of Christmas movies, they’re prepared for a blissful Christmas alone. That is, until Kirk’s mother texts her imminent arrival at Union Station.
That’s the premise that gets our couple to Union Station, where they meet a small assortment of eccentrics that includes a wisecracking, bitter bartender (Maria Burnham) and a sleazy letch (Michael Wagman) posing as a gynecologist in order to get behind women’s defenses (this description should portend the kind of humor you can expect). The script is basically a weakly developed story line whose sole purpose seems to be to provide an armature upon which to hang a number of oddball characters. This would be fine if the characters were actually funny, and if the writers had made a clear decision about what the show wanted to be, but that’s not the case. I got the impression they were trying to create a surrealist world of extreme characters similar to, say, a Christopher Durang play – but with Durang, the characters, while extreme, at least behave in a manner consistent with themselves and the action.
Mary and Kirk are presented as the play’s straight characters, but when left alone at the station, Mary’s accommodation of the bizarre conversations and behavior of the bartender and “gynecologist” don’t make sense. The bartender has some great manic monologues, but unfortunately Ms. Burnham doesn’t pull them off well. As Dr. Sam Sampson, Wagman likewise lacks the comedic subtlety that would make his character funny rather than simply offensive. (It doesn’t help that the scriptwriters fall into the juvenile trap of thinking that merely saying words like “porn” and “vagina” is inherently funny, and might do well to understand that implying the use of the Doctor’s barbaric instrument could be a lot funnier than making the bartender demonstrate, which was just uncomfortable.) Ben Campana’s Kirk is the most believable character, mostly because he’s written fairly consistent throughout the show.
Other elements seem tossed in without much thought to execution. There are a couple of musical numbers where different lyrics are sung to traditional Christmas tunes, but as staged (with nominal movement and interaction) they seem out of place and add nothing to the show; maybe if performed with more irony and comedic exaggeration, they might justify themselves and lend a more definitive tone.
When Kirk and Mary arrive at the station, they discover that Kirk’s mother’s train is delayed because of a blizzard raging outside. Given that they just took the Red Line, you’d think this would not be news. Also, those who know the city know that a song called “Riding on The Red Line Down To Grand” makes no sense when you are going to Union Station, since Grand and Union are nowhere near each other. Finally, Kirk’s mother (Letitia Guillaud) arrives, claiming to have walked 31 miles from where the train was stuck. She’s wearing jeans and a tank top, and is inexplicably shoeless, with what looks like toilet paper wrapped around her feet. In a blizzard. Guillard is way too young to be playing the mother, and given that they could have made her a comically older character by wrapping her in a big coat, hat and wig, this choice is another that just seems sloppy.
It’s one thing to write a show about eccentric characters; it’s another to take half-fleshed ideas and simply string them together in an attempt to be outrageous. There are too many half-explored and contradicting concepts in this piece, which feels rapidly thrown together after a few too many beers. It’s too off-the-wall to be a straight play, and too restrained and poorly acted to be funny. With some work on the script (including the removal of the sophomoric humor) and improved performances, this could be a much more enjoyable piece.
Our Perfect Holiday continues through January 10th at Chemically Imbalanced Theater, 1422 W. Irving Park (map), with performances Thursdays at 8pm. Tickets are $10, and are available online at BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StrangeloopTheatre.org. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
Carrie Campana (Mary), Ben Campana (Kirk), Dustin Spence (BassBass), Maria Burnham (Sally), Michael Wagman (Dr. Sam Sampson), Paul Barile (Nick), Letitia Guillard (Elena), Chris Yearwood (Accompanist)
behind the scenes