The Other Paper
November 26, 2008

Theater: Hoopla needs a little less sex, a lot more wit

By Richard Ades
Shadowbox will follow up its annual Holiday Hoopla show with something called Bringin’ Sexy Back. They might be better off with something called Bringin’ Funny Back, because the current show has plenty of sex but precious few laughs.

The Shadowboxers try to make Hoopla more family-friendly than their usual fare, but this year the only evidence of that effort is the relatively mild language. Subject-wise, they often wander into R-rated territory.

Just look at what they do to poor Santa Claus, who makes what must be a record number of appearances in various skits. If he’s not trying to ignore the innuendos of a horny gay elf, he’s making adult videos, faking an orgasm or cheating on Mrs. Claus with a slut named Candy Cane.

Now I don’t consider myself a prude, and I’d be the first to defend Shadowbox’s liberal definition of family entertainment if all this lewdness paid comedic dividends, but it seldom does.

It certainly doesn’t in A Temptation Island Christmas Story, a lengthy soap opera spoof that’s even more tedious than last spring’s Temptation Island. Shadowbox regulars know the drill: Every once in a while, the overheated dialogue pauses while dramatic background music heralds the coming of a momentous proclamation. In this outing, it generally has to do with the painful (cue the music) “accident!” suffered by Allister (David Whitehouse). In honor of the season, the script is liberally sprinkled with biblical allusions, but they fail to disguise the fact that the whole thing is (cue the music) “boring!”

Some of the Hoopla standards fare better, especially during the musical portions of the program. Steve Guyer’s voice turns the annual rendition of “I Believe in Father Christmas” into a shiver-producing event, and “Children Go Where I Send Thee”—with Julie Klein, as usual, on lead vocals—is as magnificent as ever. Other musical treats include B.B. King’s “Back Door Santa,” sung fast and bluesy by Mary Randle.

Comedically speaking, the best returning tradition is the Jeff Goode monologue Dasher, in which Jimmy Mak is angrier and more militaristic than ever as the gung-ho lead reindeer who refuses to let an ice tornado or unexpected skyscraper stand between him and his duty.

The show climaxes, as usual, with an appearance by the Santa Babies, whom I’ve come to think of as an acquired distaste. The deliberately tacky lounge act (featuring Klein, Stephanie Shull and Katy Psenicka) adds a fresh bit or two each year, such as 2008’s cute salute to global warming. But the overall routine remains rooted in the same leering sexuality that’s marked it from the beginning. It’s long since gotten old, and it’s especially unwelcome coming at the end of a Hoopla that’s already drowning in the stuff.

Shadowbox’s writers are usually such clever folks that I can only assume they lazily substituted sex for wit in so many skits because they’re preoccupied with next summer’s move to the Brewery District. Or maybe they’re bummed out by the weak economy.

Whatever the problem is, I have confidence they’ll solve it in time to justify a trip to an all-new Shadowbox when the next holiday season rolls around.

 INFO: Holiday Hoopla will continue through Jan. 3 at Shadowbox, 164 Easton Town Center. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Saturdays and some Fridays, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $30, $20 for students adn seniors (no discounts on Fridays and Saturdays). 614-416-7625 or