nytheatre.com review by David Ian Lee
December 11, 2011
Naked Holidays is ostentatiously billed as “a darkly comic Yuletide bacchanalia,” and were those carousing Greco-Romans on the hill to see what EndTimes Productions has wrought, Bacchus could only approve. Improbable that many will be lured to this production solely by the titular promise of “holidays,” audience members seeking fulfillment of the rest of the title may find their hearts grown three sizes: Naked Holidays offers a surprising celebration of community, charity, and peace. It is also really eggnoggin’ funny.
Not quite burlesque and not quite a variety show, Naked Holidays is somewhat hard to classify, being two parts sketch-comedy and one part Oh! Calcutta! There are vignettes that would not be out of place on Saturday Night Live, dashes of drag and camp, and musical numbers that borrow equally from Santa’s Village and the sands of Burning Man. Writing and directing credits vary from segment to segment, though it is assumed that EndTimes’ artistic director Russell Dobular lent a hand in theatrically fusing the annual event, now in its fifth season.
The company is comprised of about twenty singers, dancers, and musicians, with the synergism of the ensemble working so effectively as to make it difficult to single out individual performers for praise. Grayson Brannen offers a rendition of a Patsy Cline standard so striking one would be forgiven for momentarily forgetting she’s clad in naught but a stocking cap and scraps of ribbon. Chris Lazzaro’s amped-up comedic characters are forces of nature, and Samantha Cooper and Leal Vona somehow uncover a hint of pathos in an early sketch that makes kosher sausage of Dickens, Seuss, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Emceeing duties are divided between Alexander Dunbar and Kara Addington. Addington trades enjoyably on her kewpie doll charm, while Dunbar’s alt-punk aspect belies unexpected sentimentality. Their fleet-tongued banter keeps the show on the move, and effectively distracts from scene changes or an occasional stagehand sopping up the deck. Surrounded by a maelstrom of anarchy, Addington and Dunbar are essential rudders, engines, and anchorages. Also: Dunbar looks amusing wearing a tiny party hat on his bits, and Addington makes the iron clad argument for why we as a society must never allow for a recall of the Shake Weight.
As to be expected, some segments work better than others. Rudolph’s Law, about the most jolly of old elves forced to introduce himself door-to-door as a registered sex offender, is lean, potent, and mercilessly funny. First Noel, a send-up of living nativities, feels like what might happen were John Waters to commandeer le Crazy Horse, while Santa Christian appropriates Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” to subversive effect. And The Naked People Play, the evening’s coup de grâce, defies all explanations and expectations.
Much of the conceptual approach to the production is intentionally unwieldy and anarchic, which doesn’t always lend itself towards cogency. In larger group scenes, the dialogue can take on a semi-improvisational quality, and clean and serviceable punch lines are undercut and diluted as members of the company clamor to get in the last ironical ad lib. Most of the material lands; some of it does not. But the producers have employed a philosophy of scattershot, not unlike a machine gunner: If a gag doesn’t quite deliver, there are three more in the pipe.
If, however, Naked Holidays could be significantly improved in anyway, I would suggest that the evening offers too much of a good thing. The performance I attended ran well past the two-and-a-half hour mark, with an overlong intermission serving only to leaden the evening. Without a narrative structure, there is no cliffhanging sense of expectation prior to the interval; by the time the second act kicks around, the night feels a bit long in the tooth.
It should go without saying that Naked Holidays is not for everyone. Given the intimate nature of the Roy Arias Theatre, twenty naked people cavorting in Santa hats can make for an intense experience. Religion in general is excoriated, and the show’s sense of humor is stunningly blue: Christians, Muslims, and herpes are given their due before the first musical number; before the first bared breast. It is pointedly stated that the production would never work in Europe, and should probably not be attended by parents and their young children.
To that end, there may not be as much “naked” in Naked Holidays as some might expect. The material is risqué and the humor walks a razor’s edge—jokes about molested children at Penn State and black women scrubbing toilets were met with cool laughter on the night that I attended—but anyone expecting wall-to-wall voyeurism may be disappointed. Oh, there’s more frontal nudity to be had than I’ve ever been privy to in my life, but that’s not all there is to this production. There is something wonderfully earnest about Naked Holidays; the steel in its backbone is unquestionably of the Babes In Arms “We have a barn, let’s put on a show!” variety.
Naked Holidays' greatest achievement may be its ability to unexpectedly (and perhaps even unintentionally) subvert the American sexualization of Christmas for monetary gain. Jungian transference rationalizes that Christmas (and Disney movies, and roller coasters) creates a stirring sensation because we all want to be loved like it’s the first time, so it’s understandable that our culture would intrinsically link sex to the holiday season—but there’s no decent explanation for why Mariah Carey should croon “All I Want for Christmas Is You” whilst wriggling her Vixeny badonkadonk at an underage Justin Bieber. Likewise, the double-decker bus-sized advertisements for The Radio City Christmas Spectacular all but cop to the central, queasy contradiction of that show: Though pitched as wholesome, family fare, the Rockettes sell one thing, and it is has been on sale long before Santa met Rudolph. However, the honesty and courage of Naked Holidays removes the production from the cynicism and greed of corporatized profit. Yes, it is more overtly titillating and ironic than American Apparel’s best efforts, but the Naked Holidays company is also having as much genuine fun as a bunch of naked people can have together without mistletoe and a fishbowl. There’s nothing sexier than confidence and unfettered joy, and Naked Holidays comes decked in both. Bacchus bless us, everyone.