I don’t usually go in for all of that holiday crap. If you ask me, ’tis the season for saccharine platitudes and interminable carols that all serve to mask the consumerist orgy that is the month of December in the Western World. So it is a testament to the brilliance and creativity of Pointless Theatre Company that I returned for a second year to their not-so-pointless Holiday Spectacular.
A riff on old fashioned holiday variety shows, A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular, directed by Frank Cevarich, is a fast paced mixture of improv, live music, and the brilliant puppetry that re-affirms Pointless’ status as the indisputable leader of the young DC theatre scene. Like an egg nog poured by your drunk boss at a holiday party, the A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular is both an adult treat and a little inappropriate, but also retains the warm and fuzzy holiday spirit that even the most cynical of us still secretly look forward to this time of year.
The premise of the show is that the only day of the year for Santa’s elves (and Mrs. Claus, or “MC”) to take a break is Christmas Eve. And on this 239th annual celebration, the variety show being performed is supposed to be a real variety show to entertain us the audience, who are also elves. Still with me? Cool.
The ensemble jumps headfirst into the glitzy, high energy vaudeville style of the holiday variety show. Perfectly cheesy jokes are delivered with such a perfect earnestness that it betrays the wicked tongue in cheek edge of it all.
Mrs. Claus, or MC (the fabulously entertaining Mary Catherine Curran) is a big and brassy lady who loves her husband, especially his, um, sack full of goodies. Bedecked in red glitter and tossing away sexy asides like a champion burlesque performer, Curran totally nails the classy-yet-trashy aesthetic of the piece and her own character.
The elves seem intent on taking the Irony dial turn up to 11. On the one hand, these hilarious, schtick-toting helpers of Santa are pure as sugar plums: intensely loyal to Santa and Mrs. Claus, masks of holiday bliss plastered onto their elf faces. But on the other hand, each of the elves: Piper Winterstockings (Lee Gerstenhaber); Snowella Mistletoe (Hillary Morrow); Sunshine Sparklecane (Daniel Riker); Robin Goldencake (Matthew Sparacino); and my favorite, Poinsetta Jollyballs (Chloe Mikala) – are quite their own character, and it’s nothing like what you’ll find in a claymation Christmas special.
Some are naughty, some are nice, and some walk the hilarious line that divides the two. Sunshine Sparklecane (Daniel Riker) for example, is wholesome as hot cocoa as he leads the audience through not one, not two, but three juggling routines, each one with more perilous objects (“I love a man who knows how to handle balls” interjects MC) as he delivers rapid-fire groan inducing puns (“I think I’ll get to the point” et. al. as he is juggling knives). On the other hand, Snowella Mistletoe (Hillary Morrow) is all naughty when she belts a soulful jazz homage to her beloved South Pole, which ends up being a riff on the American south, hambone band included.
One of the most delightful recurring scenes is when MC sits and chats with two outrageous puppets, Stuffy (Lee Gerstenhaber) and Dick (Matthew Sparacino). Stuffy is a lugubrious blue elephant who has decided to run for City Council in 2016, while Dick is a cracked out Jack-in-the-Box who tells us that he’s sober, but will never give up partying (of course) and that sure, he has plenty of kids – he’s just never met any of them. This is the kind of whip smart and bawdy humor that dominates Pointless’ production.
The coolest thing about variety show is that it gives a company the chance to showcase its, well, variety -and Pointless certainly utilized its whole back of tricks in their holiday spectacular. The live band (Aaron Bliden, Band Leader and Drums; Devin Mahoney, Keys; Nick Wilby, Guitar) was professional and totally in sync with the action – an even more incredible feat given that they only came in during the final week of rehearsal. The musician who made me laugh so hard I thought I’d fall out of my chair was David Mahoney, who in addition to playing keys was “Krampus”, the Germanic Christmas demon of myth who is particularly hot right now given the upcoming horror flick of the same name. His character, somewhere between gay Hitler and black metal German band leader, was gaspingly funny.
Aside from the live music and the hilarious improv game (beware: there is ample audience participation) the best part of the show was a shadow puppet vignette operated by the whole ensemble. A giant loom with rolled canvas stretched across was slowly rotated to reveal a mesmerizing winter landscape. Behind the screen, intricate shadow puppets jumped and flew across the wintry landscape. It was breathtaking beautiful, and a testament to the unique artistry that nobody but Pointless Theatre brings to DC stages
The set, designed by Patti Kalil, was as sparkly and exuberant as the show itself. The costumes by Frank Labowitz had a Christmas-on acid feel, including pink petticoats, rosy cheek doll makeup, and lots of thigh high striped stalkings. Puppet Designers Kyra Corradin and Rachel Menyuk did a fantastic job at creating very un-traditional, yet extremely compelling designs. Lighting Designer E-hui Woo made the stage sparkle like a freshly bought Christmas light, and Choreographer Matt Reckeweg had the elves jumping and jiving like amphetamine-induced windup toys. In the spirt of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this production, Pointless even utilized a Fight Director, Lex Davis, to stage an exciting Nutcracker-inspired sword fight.
A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular is for all those who love Christmas but hate cheesy and overdone holiday shows. Hilarious, fresh, and smart, it will leave you red faced with laughter and definitely in the Christmas spirit – not to mention tapping your toes at the catchy songs that are just one aspect of this fabulously entertaining show.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
A Very Pointless Holiday Spectacular plays through January 2, 2016 at Pointless Theatre Company, performing at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, purchase them online.