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December 11, 2007

Bunbury’s cheesy smorgasbord fails to satisfy

"A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” is supposed to appeal to eccentric observers like me. It‘s a send-up of “A Christmas Carol” and a sequel to the popular musical “Don’t Hug Me.” Unfortunately, it’s rather tasteless in Bunbury’s hands.The playwrights find great humor in mid-northern accents, a tired gimmick that is no longer funny after the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo,” SCTV’s Bob and Doug McKenzie, etc., ad nauseam. In this production, the actors are unable to sustain a true Minnesota accent for long, veering from what sounds like Irish to Norwegian to hillbilly.If you laugh uproariously at fart jokes and “tighty whitey” references, you’ll love this show (I don’t, and I didn’t.). It wasn’t much of a knee-slapper when “South Park” substituted a famous person’s name in the catchphrase “What Would Jesus Do?,” and it’s even less funny here, where the star is Barbra Streisand. Sure, there are a few relatively high points, like “You Can Call Me Tiny,” in which Julie Zielinski plays an orphan tap-dancing on a Christmas present. She has shoes strapped to her knees as she dances in a cutout portion of the box so that she appears really short, and I concede, this was clever and fun. With her long overcoat and newsboy hat, she charms the Dickens out of you, although I could do without her nerve-grating sighs that sounded like a horse’s bluster in other scenes.  It doesn’t help that some of the actors can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Most off-key is Diane Stretz-Thurmond as Clara, who wants to celebrate Christmas in that old-fashioned way. Thurmond’s voice croaked noticeably during one number Friday night, while it was thankfully drowned out in others by the cheesy synthesizer music that came from the voice-activated karaoke machine in curmudgeonly husband Gunner’s bar.Standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, Jon Huffman (a successful film and television actor) is the show’s saving grace. He plays Sven Yorgenson, the composer of the corny songs on the karaoke machine, and is supposed to be in his “Dean Martin phase.” However, to much amusement, Huffman plays this rake like he’s in his “Tony Clifton phase.” (Clifton was Andy Kaufman’s aggressive alter-ego lounge singer.) Sven even sings “Volare, ho, ho, ho … hoser!” in an apparent homage to Clifton while mocking Gunner. Other bright spots in the cast are Tim Mathistad (Gunner) and Rick O’Daniel-Munger (Kanute).The plot has so many non-sequiturs, it’s hard to keep track of them all.  Why, for instance, does Gunner suddenly break into a song about coming out of the closet as a cross-dresser? It makes absolutely no sense and is simply a gratuitous slap at transvestites. It’s offensive and un-Christmas-spirited. And what’s with all the “lazy tadpole” references to Gunner’s inability to father a child? These cheap and base laughs further spoil a show that was already near rotten. Still, just as with such lowest-common-denominator entertainment as the works of Carrot Top, Tom Arnold and Adam Sandler, it’s hard to complain about a stupid play being stupid when most people seem to like it. Sure enough, Friday’s half-full audience apparently genuinely enjoyed it. They laughed in all the right places and didn’t fall asleep. Perhaps my standards are too high, but I believe life is too short to sit through a show with a song about Grandma “cutting the Christmas cheese.”“A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” is little more than a long, drawn-out “Saturday Night Live” skit that refuses to end. I had expected so much more from a theater of this caliber. Contact the writer at sdeatrick@gmail.com‘A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol’Starring Jon Huffman, Tim Mathistad, Rick O’Daniel Munger, Julie Zielinski and Diane Stretz-Thurmond. Directed by Matt Orme. Written by Phil and Paul Olson. A Bunbury Theatre production that continues through Dec. 22. For tickets, call 585-5306 or visit www.bunburytheatre.org.