Naked Holidays NYC
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
December 19, 2008
EndTimes Productions, the people behind the excellent Knuckleball in this past summer's FringeNYC, try their hand at holiday entertainment in Naked Holidays NYC: several short plays performed by an ensemble cast, linked thematically by Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and the holiday season. The overall tone is satirical, and nearly all the short pieces at least aim for comedy; the target(s) are people and entertainment that take Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa (Kwanzchrismakah?) too seriously and those people and entertainment's overly sentimental tone.
And, lest we forget, the very title of the show promises nakedness, in the spirit of satire and defiance, or—my personal favorite reason for nakedness—fun. I was neither disappointed nor surprised by the fact that no one actually gets naked in the show, indeed I'm glad in a way, as it makes for an excellent metaphor for the ultimate problem with the show: it promises things it doesn't deliver.
Christmas entertainment is a very easy target for the satirist, being as it is a many-times removed offshoot of organized religion, filtered through commercialism and humanity's instinct for treacly sentiment. So easy, in fact, that a satirist shooting these particular fish in this particular barrel finds it very hard to say things that haven't been said many times before. Many of the writers of the Naked Holidays shorts fall into this trap; ultimately, what results is unfocused, at times alarmingly dated, sketch comedy.
The opening short in the evening is a brief discussion of the history of Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa, presided over by a bouncy, gee-shucks, Jimmy Stewart-esque Good Host (Marek Sapievski) and a black-clad, whip-wielding Bad Host (Serena Miller). While it starts promisingly, with some fun factoids of variable obscurity surrounding Christmas and Easter, it devolves into incoherence at the moment the Catholic school girl (Meghan Sinclair) and her prim teacher (Melissa Ciesla) falter in their exposition of Christian tradition, throw off the shackles of oppression , and make out. Before long, the entire cast is dancing around in red bikinis and Santa hats while the Hosts provide musical accompaniment on keyboards, banjo, and cello. This is also the last vignette in which the Hosts host.
Coherence returns shortly, as the rest of the shorts are more traditional beginning-middle-and-end narratives. Some are amusing—one in which femme fatale Mrs. Claus relates to a private detective how she killed her abusive, tyrannical husband (who, it turns out, is not dead, and may be an even more misanthropic and thoroughly bad Santa than Billy Bob Thornton's) has a nice dark mood up until the mildly silly ending. Some are not—one interminable vignette involving a CEO Santa Claus whose lab has been infiltrated by a Muslim terrorist elf whom Santa then proceeds to convert to capitalism saw a very friendly and generous audience laugh literally not even once. There were, by my count, three Santa Clauses with drinking problems (one of them, in a short titled "The Bipolar Express," had the title disorder), one Elvis-like Santa in a g-string whose singing would have been funnier had it been clearer whether it was supposed to be as bad as it was, and two hours and twenty minutes of show.
It's inevitable that a show consisting of eight shorts by seven different writers with eight different directors is going to be of variable quality. Almost none of the comedy in Naked Holidays takes aim at any other than the easiest targets, and a few of the pieces (especially the corporate Santa one, as well as a tale of deer hunting by a nuclear power plant) feel as though they were written as much as five years ago.
The actors do their best, and a few are quite good. Judy Merrick's ex-stripper, would-be-Santa-murdering Mrs. Claus is well-played, as is Mandy Moore's elf who makes sure bipolar Santa never has an empty booze bottle in his hand. The Hosts in the opening piece are good enough that their absence in the rest of the show is felt, and their musical accompaniment is excellent.
Naked Holidays is not particularly original, nor is it incisive political or social satire, nor is it even naked. However, mild, mildly derivative comedy with PG-13 nudity is protected by the First Amendment and even liked by many. The preshow and intermission music is enjoyable as well.