Los Angeles Theater Review: THE QUEEN FAMILY’S VERY SPECIAL HOLIDAY SPECIAL (The Actors’ Gang)

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by Tony Frankel on December 11, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

A HIT-AND-MISS HOLIDAY HYBRID IS AT LEAST MORE HO HO THAN HO HUM

“The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.Silliness and charm reign supreme in The Actors’ Gang’s original Christmas show, The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special. As with their Atomic Holiday Free Fall (2011), the troupe has created a framing narrative to loosely lace together a series of musical numbers and variety acts. Stefan Haves used Atomic Holiday’s pointless premise about time-traveling aliens as a showcase for veteran cirque performers. In the case of Queen (developed in workshop by the Gang), Speedo Belini and Shadow King’s frivolous script follows a telethon in which the Queen family, disgraced by Grandma’s politically incorrect slurs on their previous show, is raising money for the Queen Family Values Corporation.

“The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.The result—equal parts Hee Haw, Saturday Night Live and the Groundlings—is a likeable, feather-brained, hokey, intermittently enchanting, and eye-roll inducing entertainment made bearable by the goofy and lovable 25-member ensemble. The dippy yuletide event becomes worthwhile for its featured acts and a few inspired sketches. Sadly, the telethon itself is never really that funny. It is humorous when the family looks face front and says, “Don’t forget, that number to call is 1-800-Queeeeeeeeen,” because we are left to figure out how many E’s are in that number. But the same joke over and over soon wears thin.

“The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.As soon as they take a commercial break, family squabbles ensue, but the over-the-top antics spewing from inauthentic characters quickly degenerates into a cacophony of free-for-all family dysfunction, and as directed by Will Thomas McFadden, it’s difficult to focus on any particular member: There’s a pregnant woman screaming at her husband on one side, a bunch of kids goofing off up stage, and two male family members sticking their tongues down each other’s throat. During the telethon, Grandma continues her unabashedly (and to be frank, refreshingly) political incorrectness, but few of the jokes actually land. This one-note variations-on-a-theme-type sketch material has infiltrated troupes around the country, including Second City in Chicago; man cannot live on corn alone, he needs originality and true wit.

“The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.Fortunately, the telethon occurs under a “court ordered mandate” to celebrate diversity; this allows for variety both secular and –non. An Amish family offers a version of the great AP Carter’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” (with updated spatting lyrics by Mr. King), even as they perform a perfectly-timed cup game percussion beat on stools. Some delightfully zany dancing boys exuberantly accomplish Lindsay Kerr’s adorable choreography in Maria Voylokov’s costumes of green T-shirts, Santa caps, red ‘n’ white boxers, and black shoes and socks. A strange but wondrous skit involves an astronaut falling in love with an alien; Lauren Wemischner’s lighting effects of shooting stars are astounding, and it’s a neat trick when the unseen cast manipulates the gravity-challenged cosmonaut.

“The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.Specialty acts include the clever clickety-clack of the dexterous Jason Rodgers, who improvised a tap routine based on an audience member’s name (although I don’t understand why he was introduced as a “zombie wiccan priest”). Michael Rayner’s terrific balancing act included a Sylvester Stallone action-figure, tennis racket, drum sticks, wheelbarrow and a cheeseburger; his roaringly funny interaction with a few patrons outshined any written material. Prestidigitator Scott Marshall wowed us with his balloon-becomes-a-bunny illusion, and the gorgeous, curvaceous Whitney Kirk flawlessly demonstrated her silk aerialist skills accompanied by Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson’s lovely and haunting “Winter Song.”

“The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.The choice of songs—Parker & Stone’s “Jew on Christmas,” Lehrer’s “Hanukkah in Santa Monica”—is usually more clever than the presentation of the tunes—even with a slam-bang three-member band—and “Roll Call,” based on the King Family’s “All Together,” is positively unintelligible. Other sketches (“Christmas ‘Round the World with Grandma”) are sketchy or just plain weird. In order for the whole Holiday Special to be greater than the sum of its parts, there needs to be a better through-line, sharper material and tighter direction. Overall, the parts are worth a visit, especially on Thursdays when all seats are Pay-What-You-Can.

The band in “The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special” - The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City.

photos courtesy of The Actors’ Gang

The Queen Family’s Very Special Holiday Special
The Actors’ Gang
Ivy Substation in Culver City
scheduled to end on January 12, 2014
for tickets, call 310.838.4264 or visit www.TheActorsGang.com

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