* * * * *
Easton Towne Center
* * * * *
by Rick Brown
Originally I was going
to write separate reviews of these two shows. After seeing them
both in a short time span I realized they’re so similar
that it might seem redundant. Not that that’s bad. After
all, the theme is Christmas and no matter how you look at it there’s
the Jesus story and the Santa story. Neither performance mentions
Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or Hanukah. Unless you count the song “Oy
To the World” performed at Shadowbox. As good as the tune
was the toast given shortly afterward…during the superb
“A Cindy and Lavern Christmas” (Mary Randle and Julie
Klein)…re-established the show’s main focus…joking
about Christmas. “Let’s not forget Jesus is the reason
for the season!” And looking to the sky these two trailer
park trash mothers lift their beers and exclaim, “J.C. This
one’s for you!” Amen…burp!
After attending all of the productions given by these two fine
cabarets the past two years, I think some observations might be
more relevant than a typical review. Shadowbox and 2Co’s
both use the same structure of monologues, skits, or one act plays
sandwiched between some remarkable music by house bands BillWho?
(Shadowbox) and Downtown DFN (2Co’s). The real differences
are logistical, SBox being at a mall and 2Co’s in the city.
Going to Easton Towne Center involves all that is mall culture…waiting
for a parking space…dodging cars as a pedestrian once parked…and
shouldering your way past bored “I’m so frikkin’
cool I could kiss myself” bored looking teenagers. At 2Co’s
there’s a tiny parking lot behind the building, where you
will be shown where to park, most likely by the band’s drummer.
Shadowbox Cabaret is housed in a corner of the mall. It’s
a large space…flashy with television screens. 2Co’s
is much smaller … understated … more like a 60’s
coffee house than a theater. Beyond this both experiences share
more in common than not. Yet people I’ve encountered in
the audiences have usually expressed their loyalty to one cabaret
or the other. “I went to 2Co’s once and didn’t
like it as well. I don’t enjoy country music” was
how a tablemate put it this night. Understandably, I was surprised
the second time I attended Shadowbox and realized that no…not
every show…is about sex. I most certainly have
my favorite. And those who have read my reviews can probably guess
which it is. I enjoy both really. But for different reasons…even
though the similarities far outnumber their differences.
Beginning both shows is a thought-provoking piece. “Holiday
Hoopla” has a fine reading of Robbie Nance’s “Best
Damn Santa Around” by David Gigliotti. The story of a recently
fired store Santa, Gigliotti endearingly explains between swigs
of beer the nuances of “reading the parents” while
asking their children what they want for Christmas. His sensitivity
becomes the reason for his dismissal. And while Joseph Lorenzo’s
reprised Three Grunts Lost (by Michael Rodriguez) is
more intense in subject matter, both actors start their respective
shows off with class and poignancy. Mr. Lorenzo’s riveting
tale of three G.I.s in Vietnam wandering into a metaphoric nativity
scene is nothing short of inspirational.
Both productions celebrate the unrelenting exuberance of children
at Christmastime. At 2Co’s, Chris Chambers’ impish
take on Paul Feig’s Army Issue Elf certainly rekindles
memories of school plays and how one’s parent's indirect
involvement (in this case insisting an elf outfit could be scrounged
up at dad’s army-navy store) can be universally humiliating,
yet a lesson in what’s really important in life. Amy Lay’s
wonderful 7 year old who lectures us about the impossibility of
Santa Claus in Hoopla’s “Santa Fraud" (by Robbie
Nance) is also a delightful…albeit painful reminder of one’s
epiphany concerning the uh…lie…that is Mr. Claus.
And Shadowbox’s excellent ability to portray an elementary
school play is well represented in “Hoopla XII” by
their original “Kids-mas Carol”. Mary Randle shines
as teacher Mrs. Hosenfeffer doing her best to keep her class’s
play from blowing up into chaos as Julie Klein hilariously portrays
lead character Ebeneba (Scrooge) with cherubic…yet irreverent…aplomb.
Opposing sides of the same coin are Tom Cardinal’s effeminate
rendering of Hollywood (Jeff Goode) at 2Co’s, and
Shadowbox’s “Dasher”, (also Goode) played with
mucho macho by Jimmy Mak in drill sergeant fashion. As reindeer
Prancer, Cardinal hysterically chronicles his tenuous relationship
with red nosed…and more famous…Rudolph. Ditto for
Mr. Mak as testosterone blinded Dasher with both actors bringing
down their respective houses.
by Ted Kane
Compiling a best of list for 2004
is actually a fairly tricky endeavor. In rock, several reliably
good bands put out new releases this year; though most of them
were solid, few of them were really exciting. The latest efforts
from Drive-By Truckers, the Magnetic Fields and Beastie Boys were
all worthwhile, but none of them matched the best of their previous
work. One exception to this was The Fall, who put out a fine,
fine album in /The Real New Fall L.P. (formerly 'County on the
Click)/, the long-winded title alluding to the fact that the original
version of the disc had been bootlegged online. Calexico released
a great E.P. of mostly covers--their versions of the minutemen's
"Corona" and Love's "Alone Again Or" with
a full mariachi band are the very definition of inspired--and
Stereolab released a very likable 3 song CD single, but do such
short efforts count?
A WEEK OF EXCITEMENT AND SUSPENSE
IN THE RE-ELECTED BUSH WHITE HOUSE
Bush Might Just Cause an Invasion of Iran
by David Hochman
(A one-act play which
probably makes the White House appear far more intellectual than
the author intends).
(Bush enters the Oval office at 6:30am, yawns, farts loudly and
chuckles. As he turns on the lights, he is startled to find Cheney,
Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice already sitting there).
Bush: Jesus Christ,
you guys scared me, what the hell you already doing here?
Rice: You told us to
be here for a 6 o’clock meeting, sir—a matter of national
security, the memo said.
Bush: Did it? Did I?
Oh, yes, of course I did. National security. (Reflects) Jesus,
why were you sitting in the dark?
Powell: You said the
government’s so much in debt, we have to be careful with
Bush: Yeah, that’s
right. Good thinking. Uh, anyone hear me fart?
If we did sir, we’d deny it to the end, believe me.
Cheney: I didn’t
Visual Slice of Chicago
by Patrick O'Malley
A Photo Essay
by John Bennett
the Parents (in Morocco)
By Sarah Moukhliss
and I decided to watch the new Bridget Jones Diary movie
today. The only thing more exciting than going to the movies
is getting there early to watch the previews. I’m
a big fan of “Meet the Parents”; therefore I
was excited to see that they were coming out with a sequel,
“Meet the Fockers”! For those of you haven’t
watched the first movie about meeting potential in-laws
for the first time… now it is time for the potential
in-laws to meet your own family! AARRGH! I have to admit
that I can relate. I met Abdel’s parents for the very
first time last summer. Although we had been married for
a year, I still had butterflies in my stomach. My in-laws
were not living a city way from me, nor a state away from
me… they were living a continent away from me in Morocco,
Africa! I am unable to speak Arabic, French, or Berber,
and they were unable to speak English. Trying to communicate
was an adventure in itself! Needless to say, despite a few
hiccups I had a marvelous time in Morocco. I even renewed
my vows with a second wedding at my mother and father in
law’s house, Zaharra and El-Houcine, respectively
in Marrakech. Abdel and I glowed months after we got back.
We showed our marvelous photos of family, Marrakech, Casablanca,
Rabat, and Fez to everyone including my own parents, Wayne
and Kerry. Seeing their enthusiasm, Abdel and I extended
an invitation for our next visit & as you are about
to see they took us up on the offer.
Brown with Amelia Hapsari
tell you what happened in Ohio…if you really want
to know. The “Evangelicals”…(as they call
themselves) were lured to the polls with Issue 1. The Republican
Party, who either assume born again Christians are too stupid
to figure Issue 1 was unnecessary because Ohio already has
a law forbidding gay marriage, or they wanted a law that
encompass a wider range of “sinners”. This was
not merely an amendment to the state’s constitution
banning gay marriage, but maliciously deprives unmarried
heterosexuals and their children of health benefits and
personal rights. Even our Governor Bob (the Blob) Taft came
out against Issue 1…albeit only a few days before
the election. Either way, Karl Rove and company played “evangelicals”
like a fiddle.
A Naked Sunfish Holiday Tradition
Cheer from Aunt Edith
by Rick Brown
Uncle Wes lived with my Aunt Edith for most of his adult life...although
I’m sure it seemed like an eternity to him. He worked for
the Bethlehem Steel Company in Baltimore for thirty years until
he retired. He worked the night shift getting off around 7 a.m.
when he would come home for dinner. In the summer when it was
warm...and Baltimore can get very, very humid...he would go to
a movie matinee in an air conditioned theater and sleep. If you
knew my Aunt Edith you would assume what I did...even as a child...and
that was that Uncle Wes worked nights and went to matinees to
get away from his wife. He never said much. He was a slight, wiry
man of few words. And the few words he almost always uttered were,
“For Chrissakes Edith! SHUDD UPP!!”
The man was almost incidental by nature. One time...after he retired
and he and Aunt Edith moved back to the Cleveland area...my brothers
and I were helping him put a refrigerator in a backyard shed because
there was no room for it in the trailer they were moving into.
After much jostling my brothers and I closed the shed door and
thought we were finished. From her perch (as supervisor of course)
Aunt Edith looked at the three of us with bewilderment and asked,
“Where the HELL is Wes?” And after exchanging confused
glances we heard muffled sounds coming from behind the fridge
in the shed. “MMMPPPHH!!! Hey!! HHMMPPHHFFF!!!” We
quickly opened the shed door, moved aside the refrigerator and
liberated Uncle Wes. My brothers and I were all embarrassed and
each, in turn, apologized profusely for our insensitive behavior.
Aunt Edith broke into the humility with a shriek of, “What
the HELL were you doing in there?” Which prompted Uncle
Wes to...once again...chant his mantra. “For Chrissakes
Edith!! SHUDD UPP!!” They were quite the loving couple.
Their last name was Crabtree. I am not making this up.
Wes soon was diagnosed with lung cancer. Thirty years in the steel
mills and 2 packs a day of Chesterfield non-filters caught up
with him. The last time I saw him he was lying on the couch in
their trailer smoking the aforementioned brand of cigarettes,
quite literally coughing his lungs out...or what was left of them.
“I TOLD him to quit those goddamned things years ago. “
Aunt Edith offered for my contemplation. To which Uncle Wes replied
sarcastically (yep, you guessed it) “Cough cough...For Chrissakes
HACK! HACK! Edith!!! SHUDD UPPP!!!” These were the final
words I heard my uncle ever say and we all joked at the funeral
that these very words were more than likely chiseled into his
A few years after Wes passed, my brother and his new wife were
having their very first Christmas and invited everyone over...including
Aunt Edith. My parents were there along with my siblings and their
families. This included my brother Jim’s 9 year old adopted
son Matt. Matt the Brat was what my father called him. I thought
this surprisingly subtle for my Dad. If I knew where Matt is today...and
thank God I do not...I would have to guess some one killed him
or he’s in jail convicted of several murders. I honestly
don’t care so long as he’s nowhere near me. So Matt
the Brat is playing with one of the toys some one so graciously
gave him and he broke it. This kid could break anything he got
his hands on. But in a moment of diplomacy my father (affectionately
known as Snook) said, “They don’t make anything any
good any more!!” To which...in the spirit of the season
Aunt Edith quipped, “You’re right Snook!! Everything
IS SHIT!!!” Well...happy holidays to you too Aunt Edith.
Inside my head I distinctly heard a voice from my past reply,
“For Chrissakes Edith!! SHUDD UPPP!”
You know...there are lots of reasons to go through life believing
that “everything is shit.” There are days when it
certainly seems true to me. I have my days when Sartre’s
“Hell is other people” could easily be the thought
of the day. But...unlike Aunt Edith...I don’t want to spend
a big chunk of my life living alone in a trailer. And when I think
of this particular Christmas it strikes me how most of them blur
into each other...with the exception of a few. And this is one
of them I distinctly remember. As much as family...and sometimes
even friends...can annoy a person...especially at this time of
year...I have come to realize that even some one like Aunt Edith
helped make me who I have become. I mean that in a positive way.
Imagine...Aunt Edith’s negativity was so over the top it
MADE me consider the positive. I have no idea how she became so
bitter. My father did shortly before he died also. Yet they both,
particularly Snook, had a positive influence. They were there.
Unlike today when some people are not.
This holiday season...regardless of which one you celebrate...take
the time to savor those around you...even if they drive you nuts.
They may not...for whatever reason...be there next year. And in
some strange way, which will surprise you, their absence will
make you miss them. I guarantee it. (a possible exception to this
uplifting message might be Matt the Brat) And you might consider
that next year YOU might not be here. So I suppose my holiday
message may seem bittersweet to most...but that’s how I
see it. And if anyone feels the need to take issue with my views
then I encourage you to speak up LOUDLY...’cause I’ve
got one thing and one thing only to say to you.
Editor’s note: Aunt Edith
died a little over a year ago. She was 90 years old. Her neighbor
called my Uncle Bruce and told him she had passed out in her trailer.
He went and got her up…asked if she was alright and she
said she was. He suggested she go to the hospital to make sure
everything was okay. She told him to go to hell and get out of
her house. He did just that…returning an hour later and
she was gone. Sad…surely. But she lived her last day the
way she lived every previous one. And despite her surliness I
will miss my Aunt Edith this Christmas. And I will remember the
one long ago when she informed us “Everything is shit!”
Rest in peace Aunt Edith. I can picture Jesus turning to her and
proclaiming, “Truly, truly I say unto you…For Wes’s
sake Edith…SHUDD UPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Hoopla XIII” and “Christmas at 2Co’s also share
a couple of the same Christmas songs. The Kinks’ “Father
Christmas” is given the punk treatment at both cabarets. Pam
Callahan (2Co’s) and Amy Lay (Sbox) both give delightfully
cynical interpretations. Between the two I’m calling this
a dead heat. The same goes for Etta James’ “Merry Christmas
Baby” confidently captured at Shadowbox by veteran Stephanie
Shull and with a subtle power by 2Co’s newcomer Sheanneen
Shelby. Other musical standouts include Shadowbox’s BillWho?
with Mary Randle performing a blistering “Backdoor Santa”
and a rave up on Black Sabbath’s “I Am Ironman!”
(I Am Santa Claus) with Michael Duggan out Ozzie-ing Mr. Osborne.
(a little aside: I don’t think I’m the only one who
noticed that it took four…FOUR musicians to fill the shoes
of BillWho? keyboardist and almost mommie Jennifer Hahn!) At 2Co’s
Chris Chambers’ unbridled mugging through Dave Edmonds’
“Run, Run Rudolph” was as much fun to watch as it was
to listen to. And John Croke stood tall in front of Downtown DFN
to glide his way through Jethro Tull’s tantalizing “Skating
For all 13 of the Hoopla’s,
the grand finale has been the bawdy “Santa Babies” Dixie
(Julie Klein), Dorothy (Stephanie Shull) and Darlin (Katy Psenicka)
accompanied on keyboards this year by J.T. Walker as Danny. These
women are naughty…but nice. Well, at least Dixie
was nice enough to let what looked like Kermit the Frog take an
extended naughty excursion through her dress! Singing double
entendre lounge schlock is a Christmas tradition for the Santa Babies.
But last year…not to be outdone by their sister cabaret…2Co’s
countered with their own “Christmas Queenies”. Dixie
(Tom Cardinal), Darling (Chris Lynch), and Dorito (Joseph J. Lorenzo)
accompanied by keyboard player Reverend Dick (Chris Ciampa) pass
“bawdy” by. These drag queens are tawdry…but
nice. This playful parody is a romp of infectious belly laughs.
And both of these absurd skits climax their respective shows with
an orgasmic intensity seldom experienced in the pageantry of most
holiday activities. I suspect the Santa Babies are beginning to
feel some competition from the Queenies. This year they added scantily
dressed male dancers dubbed Dixie’s Dicks to their
revue. I decline to elaborate further. I certainly do not want parents
filtering out Naked Sunfish on their home computers!
Whether you decide to see Shadowbox’s “Holiday Hoopla
XII” or “Christmas at 2Co’s” you will not
be disappointed. Both are entertaining…delightful…exuberant
holiday fare. Better still…if you have the time…and
the moola…go see both. Similar yes…but you’ll
appreciate the familiarity after noting the logistical differences.
“Christmas at 2Co’s”
and “Holiday Hoopla XIII” both run through December
30th. For more information go to www.shadowboxcabaret.com.