Slay bells

Dec 24, 2003 at 12:00 am

It would seem that Christmas is the season of farce, with no small variety of seasonal comedies appearing on local stages. Helping to lampoon the spirit of the holiday is the new improv-style comedy, 25, gracing the small stage at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre. This is the eleventh original comedy from the Planet Ant Improv Colony, and it is directed by Shawn Handlon, a main stage player at Second City Detroit.

This lighthearted Christmas romp is a loose spoof of the television show “24,” riffing on the innovative trappings of the network drama. For full effect the live action onstage is complemented by a Plexiglas television built into one wall, where split-screen effects, cell phone conversations, and a mock-dramatic countdown help move the comedy along. True to the “24” format, a number of disconnected plots mesh and interconnect in a final comedic climax.

In this outlandish comedy, an angel named Ole Gunner (Catherine Hong) has drunkenly filed a work order with the Department of Destiny asking that five people be killed in a hail of psychotic gunfire. Demoted to the rank of human, she now has 25 hours to twist the threads of destiny and avert this senseless tragedy. (Hence the tagline, “Christmastime is running out.”)

Though many improv shows feature at least a few non sequitur sketches, 25 successfully strings together every scene, using the supernatural hook of an angel’s quest superbly as a device to unite the far-out and eclectic story line, which would otherwise pass all understanding. It’s a gimmick sure to bring out the indulgence in the theatergoer, who will likely laugh even while wondering where it’s all headed. And such a gimmick is vital for a story that races backward and forward through time, encompassing 48 years of history and local and distant settings, managing to heave in everything from alcoholic scam artists to animatronic pirate robots.

The mortal characters whose destinies intertwine are Noel (Cara Trautman), a Christmas-crazy choral director fated to go on a killing spree; John Winthrope III (Mark Mikula), the proprietor of an unsuccessful roadside Christmas museum; Edgar Derby (Dave Davies), an aspiring documentarian on a hunt for the real Santa Claus; Edgar’s ex-wife Gwen Derby (Jaime Moyer), a bitter and fiery dame riding the rocky rebound; Lester Young (Brett Guennel), a failed actor and unwitting Santa stuntman sexually assaulted by a polar bear; and Tom (Nick Smith), an aspiring but incompetent piano player with a tin ear and a heart of gold.

Devotees of improv can expect the usual hilarious excesses of physical comedy, over-the-top characterizations, side-splitting fight scenes and witty dialogue (despite a few good-natured groaners). And the players have come up with appropriate vehicles for their individual talents. The comic timing of straight man Davies is right on the mark. The squeaky-clean good looks of Trautman are so incongruous to the foul-mouthed, maddened antics of her chief character that it’s as if one of the girls from Little House on the Prairie had washed down a handful of amphetamines with a gallon of straight rye whiskey. And as the players fill in as various bit characters, they get more laughs while helping propel the absurd story forward. Smith gives a show-stealing performance as a polar bear trainer, lumbering onstage to belch out a few hilarious lines of barely literate dialogue. Guennel fits well into sarcastic, swaggering, low-level authority figure roles, such as landlord and nightclub owner. Moyer captures the essence of an obnoxious, pushy and mean-spirited “talk to the hand”-type bimbette.

Despite a few technical problems (including an uncooperative CD track), the production values are pretty high. 25 has appealing choreography, amusing musical numbers, and, most notably, a very clever set design that holds some surprises. All in all, those who catch this two-hour, two-act comedy can expect entertainment and laughter, and a syrupy-sweet ending that weighs heavenly grace against earthly delights and comes out in favor of human fellowship. Hey, who can be against that?


See 25 at Planet Ant Theatre (2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck), 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 28. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students with ID or Hamtramck residents. Call 313-365-4948 for reservations.

Michael Jackman is the copy editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].