Monday, December 16, 2013

Bob’s Holiday Office Party by Joe Keyes and Rob Elk

L - R Rob Elk, Joe Keyes Photo:  Roger Nygard 

By Joe Straw

Bob (Rob Elk), owner of Bob Finhead’s E-Z Insurance Agency of Neuterburg, Iowa, invited me to his holiday party and I really had my heart set on going. His Christmas holiday wingding is the social event for this tiny town, population 376, or so, and he’s been doing this since 1996.   

One really couldn’t count on an abundance of food at his parties.  There was plenty of cheese and cheese whiz and some lugubrious drollery once the beer and scotch had taken its effect

I was offered a comfortable decorated red chair and was there to just look around and observe nature. And boy, did I see things, natural and unnatural, but I’ll get to that later.  

Bob’s Holiday Office Party written by Joe Keyes and Rob Elk, directed by Justin Tanner, and produced by Rob Elk, Joe Keyes, Julian McMahon and Charlie Loventhal is now playing at the Pico Playhouse through December 26, 2013. Bob’s Holiday Office Party is a wonderful gossipy type of play, which one goes to see “outrageous” in its finest form and then report back all the craziness you’ve seen.

The Christmas accouterments in Bob’s office made the place seem like home, like the set you’d see in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, garlands and fake hollow candy canes all over the place, an old fashion Christmas tree, with old fashion lights, and an old Mr. Magoo Santa hanging on the wall. Oh, what the halls, everything looked old! But it was clean, so clean you could eat off the floor, which I’ll be getting to later as well.

The phone always rings in an empty room and that’s how things get started this night.   Bob comes in, with a case of beer in his hands, and hastily picks up the archaic phone. This time, on this night, he answers the call of a woman who has suffered a personal injury.  The woman, on the other end, fell into a ditch, some thirty odd feet, and she needed to have her insurance payment back dated so she could collect a tidy sum.  A tub of apple butter jelly would serve as tender on this holy night. And she wouldn’t be coming to the party tonight because both her ankles hurt.

Okay, Mom. – Bob

Police Chief Joe Walker (Joe Keyes) is an officer who knows the pulse of his community of this one-van town.  He lacks a police uniform tonight – the victim of someone enjoying the festivities, too much, on this holiday puke fest.  Still he is there for a reason.  

“I come here to party with the Lord, which I do.” – Joe Walker

Strange thing about Joe, bringing up bad blood between Bob and him, knowing where the bones are buried, past relationships, and an affair that has everyone talking.  All this thinking out loud has created a disturbance in Joe’s bowels and he moves toward the bathroom, but the door is broken, no matter, he places the door to one side, drops his pants and carries on a very natural, yet straining, conversation. Taking the toilet paper tube, he wraps the paper around his other fingers, tears, and wipes, walks away from the toilet without looking for the handle to flush.

No matter, Bob, claps his hands twice, and the excrement finds it way to its final destination.   He’s invented the “Clapper Crapper” and that’s something Bob has been known for all his life, an inventor of sorts, albeit odd things – the things nobody thought of wanting - still if he had his druthers, he would invent fulltime and move to Des Moines.

Not much for decorating, Joe tires of placing silver icicles on the tree and starts throwing clumps on the branches and before he departs for a short while.  

Shortly thereafter, Roy Mincer (David Bauman), the mayor of the town enters in white hat, white scarf, white sweater, white pants, and white boots, not paying much attention to his Labor Day faux pas, and looking elegantly gay in the process.  Tonight, he is enjoying the company of his male houseguest.  And after a trip to the day spa he needs to get back and get ready for their vacation together, leaving his wife at home.  

A small time later, Elwin Beewee (Michael Halpin), a highly successful businessman, nattily dressed, with an impressive toupee, comes in to speak with Bob.  Beewee is well-spoken now, but the eerie shadow of a boyhood incident terrifies him.  The time when he was duct tape naked in the gym because of a bad stutter, something that he has not completely gotten over.  But now, his sagacious business eyes are set on the building Bob occupies knowing that he can convince this simpleton to sell his old and dilapidated property.   

Next in are the Johnson twins, La Voris (Linda Miller) and La Donna (Maile Flanagan), a pair of unlikely twins, fraternal, and are only alike in their political leanings.  At first glance, one would think that La Voris is the “luckier in love” one. La Voris is tall, and La Donna is small, each dressed in elf-like holiday costumes. They’ve been hearing rumors about Bob and Margie and they want to get to the bottom of it.  If they could stop making those annoying sounds for one minute. That aside, these girls are ready to party!

Margie Mincer (Andrea Hutchman), the mayor’s wife, and Bob’s current amour, arrives a short time later with her face colored the same shade as raspberry jam, a victim of an overextended stay in one of the town’s tanning salons. And while everyone knows what’s going on between the two – the accusatory looks and the behind the back snickers will not die down.

Well, every Christmas needs a Jesus, and Marty (Cody Chappel) fits the bill.  When he takes off the skullcap, he is downright the spittin’ image of the Lord’s son.  But there’s something wrong with this guy.  He talks and acts like a Californian and lives and drives around in his van that is covered in pie plates, that’s supposed to be receiving alien messages, and he keeps running that van into other people’s car.

Carol (Colleen Wainwright) is a woman that has escaped from a mental institution who joins them once the party gets started for a much needed musical interlude before the lyrics gets crazy and she flips out.   Brandy (Colleen Wainwright) arrives later and she is a woman who needs a man 24/7/365, and that’s when the party really starts to rock.

One can’t help but feel right at home serving as a witness and participant in this delightful comedy that is in its 18th season.  Certainly if you are seated in the audience you feel you are part of the party.

Comedy comes in threes and I couldn’t help but think that two more flushes at opportune times would have added to Justin Tanner’s directorial spectacle.  Still, Tanner’s direction is exciting and enormously enjoyable with characters that go to extreme to reach their objective.

Oh, objectives, that thing.  We know what Bob and Elwin Beewee want but not so sure about the other characters and what they want from Bob. The characters misoneism, in this small little town, is they want no change. We don’t see the accumulation of those moments that give us a satisfactory result. These characters don’t come just to get drunk and party, they have objectives, for the love of Santa.   My guess is to keep Bob from leaving, or demanding things stay the same, and that moment, or moments, must be recognized so the ending is crystal clear.

Still, while things on stage may not have completely gelled this night (because there are multiple casts and so few rehearsals) the actions on stage have the audience howling.  And that is more than half the game in this really delightful comedy.  

L - R Joe Keyes, Maile Flanagan, Linda Miller, Mark Fite - Photo:  Roger Nygard 

Rob Elk plays Bob Finhead and does some exciting work.  Elk gives us a man who is constantly being challenged by his friends, his sexuality, his affair, all are open to fair game.  And when he is caught he is taken aback for only a moment and then moves on.  But all of these things happen for a reason.  It probably weights on his decision to leave or stay.  Elk give us some wonderful moments in his performance and there are delightful things going on internally as well.  

Joe Keyes does a grand job as Joe Walker.  Walker leaves his police job at the door, never giving his job a second thought even though one character is parading around with a bag of marijuana.  Joe Walker wants something but it is difficult to determine.  A little more work on the relationships between a cop and the partygoers. Still some very fine work.

David Bauman does a nice job as Mayor Roy.  He seems rather conflicted about his sexuality, his wife, and his insurance agent.  He’s not on the road to a healthy relationship with his wife.  So why is he there?  Possibly to move on and give his blessing is my guess. There is a reason why Mayor Roy shows up near the end but not really sure how he got there and why he is dressed in that fashion.  Still it is hilarious and Bauman does a terrific job.

Michael Halpin is exceptional as Elwin Beewee.  Looking back on his performance one sees him as Satan coming back to strip Bob of his dignity, his business, his friends, and his white soul. One wonders why the duct tape scene didn’t quite gel.  Still, Halpin is specific in his choices and does a great job changing from a successful businessman to a blubbering, stuttering boy.

Linda Miller plays La Voris Johnson with aplomb.  La Voris is the taller of the two twins. Miller defines the character with a big smile and makes funny noises.  And is she a physical comedy diva. This is a very nice job.

Maile Flanagan is La Donna Johnson and she plays along with her taller sister.  She has a competition thing going on with her.  Who can drink the most? Who can make the funniest noise?  But misses out on grabbing a man and dancing with him, which sends her into a tizzy with extremely hilarious results before she collapses. Flanagan is amazing in her choices and kept the audience laughing all night long.

Andrea Hutchman is so plain as Margie Mincer, but plain in a terrific way.  Margie, no saint, has a husband turning the tide.  So to get back, or have a normal sexual relationship, she finds solace in the arms of another man, a real man. And to look best for her new man she overdoes it.  But really, this is nothing to her, like her beet red face doesn’t exist, like her husband doesn’t exist, or the front she puts up to let the other know her marriage is falling apart, nothing bothers her, these thing just do not exist in her eyes.   But one thing is missing.  She has to keep her amour from leaving and we really don’t see that or how she reacts when he has signed the papers.  Still, Hutchman is terrific in the role.

Cody Chappel plays Marty in a very good comedic turn but I’m not sure how he fits into this comedy, why he’s there, or what is his objective.  His character is silly.  Everyone seems to not mind he is there.  So why is he there?  Chappel performance was chipper, but in the grand scheme of things, where was he going? Where is he driving the van? All that aside Chappel has a good look and should do well in this industry.

Colleen Wainwright does a marvelous turn as Carol, a woman from an institution who happens to play guitar and sing.  But her vocal prowess doesn’t ring a cord with her compatriots.  She is covered with a powder on her head (lice?).  And I just wish someone would feed her something.  She is so thin.  And then there’s Brandy, Wainwright fills the role of an oversexed sexpot with an abundant amount sexual energy, it’s hard for anyone to leave the office with her around.  

Other members of this cast that will be performing during the run are Melissa Denton, Johanna McKay, Liz Davies, and Mark Fite.  Mark Fite also created the character of Marty in this production.

There’s a reason why Bob’s Holiday Office Party by Joe Keyes and Rob Elk has been playing for many years.  It’s because the writers have written an alternative to the other holiday shows that are available out there. The characters are extremely unique and slightly out of fashion. Not really people you would want to be around for any extended period of time.  Which makes this all so much fun.

The Original Set by Gary Guidinger looks pristine when you first enter, and with partygoers doing their thing, dancing, eating, drinking copious amount of alcoholic beverages, and writhing all over the floor.  By the end of this show the set looks like a war zone.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Set Contruction – Sets to Go
Lighting Design – Steve Pope
Production Stage Manager – Jennifer Bendik
Assistant Stage Manager – Kriss Meier
Publicity – Philip Sokoloff 
Assistant to the Producer and Hat Sewer – Kriss Meier
Graphics – Fred and David at Ultra Creative
Program Graphic Designer – Jeff Fontelera
Show and Pre-Show music courtesy of Eddie G.

Run!  Run!  Run! And take someone who has seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” too many times.

RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.
ESTIMATED RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes, no intermission.
CONSUMER ADVISORY: Suggested for audiences 16 to adult.

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