Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bag & Baggage’s Latest Holiday Massacre

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Two years ago, we saw our first Bag & Baggage holiday production, Farndale Avenue’s…Christmas Carol and left the theater somewhat puzzled. The show was pure slapstick, and the audience’s enthusiastic response made us feel like the only ones left out of a huge inside joke. Last year’s radio parody, It’s A (Somewhat) Wonderful Life made more sense – a show so funny that it easily earned every laugh. Finally, this year we get it. Miracle on 43d Street: A 1940’s Holiday Radio Massacre is not just a farce, it’s part of a series intended by Director/Adaptor Scott Palmer as an early Christmas gift for Bag & Baggage’s regular supporters, and it is in this spirit that the show must be taken.

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
The “gift” is showing us another side of a group of outlandishly talented actors who regular populate Bag & Baggage’s more conventional productions. Jessica Geffen’s outrageously ditzy portrayal of Lana North-Berkshire-Whiteside is imbued with additional depth (if that word can be used in this context!) following hard on the heels of her icy portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. Geffen milks the removal of her gloves like Gypsy Rose Lee on steroids, setting the stage for two hours of comedic one-upmanship. Not to be outdone, Clara Hillier’s venomous Casca in 2013’s Julius Caesar gives way deliciously to drama queen extraordinaire Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick, perhaps the dumbest diva Broadway ever bred.  Speaking of Shakespeare, Bag & Baggage company regulars Gary Strong and Luke Armstrong (as Winston Whiteside and Anthony Antonino) forsake the classic comedy of last summer’s Love’s Labours Lost for this winter’s anything-but-classic holiday parody, bringing non-stop absurdist energy to the schizophrenic demands of the Palmer’s adaptation. Reprising his role as foley artist Peter Paulsen from last year’s radio show, Brandon McFarland moves from dead drunk in 2013 to just plain dead in 2014  – but (with the help of the rest of the cast) his frenetic animation belies his demise.

The final two cast members are newcomers to the Bag & Baggage company, but we hope that by next Christmas they, too, will be regulars – both bring a lot to the show. Chase Fulton (as handsome film star “Donald Donaldson”) comes closest to the role of straight man; his upright stance and clear delivery give him the ambience of a (slightly tarnished) Dudley Do-Right. By contrast, Jeremy Sloan’s character is as delightfully un-straight manly as can be. His hilarious interpretation of New York police officer Gilroy Gildersleeve is charmingly fey, and every time he opens his mouth or sashays across the stage he gets another laugh.

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
Our only issue with the show is that the stage layout (with foley table stage left and the radio performers’ microphone stage right) splits the action into two distinct areas, yet the activity on both sides is non-stop. Placing the table to the rear center would allow the audience to simultaneously take in the dumbshow at the foley table and the dialogue at the microphone.

Also reprising its role from last year is the art deco WBNB Radio backdrop, a stunning piece of set construction with functional clock and “on air” lights to ensure that the audience knows exactly where the story is set and when the characters are on the air. Costumes are period appropriate; Geffen’s abundant cleavage provides a key sight gag that is enhanced by her gaudily gauche attire.

Bag & Baggage’s regular audience does not need to be told about this show – they are already on board (and, in fact, filled much of the house for preview night). However, many of the evening’s attendees were newcomers (Palmer polled the house during his introductory remarks), and they clearly enjoyed the experience too.

Bag & Baggage’s A Miracle on 43d Street, A Holiday Radio Massacre is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through December 23, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, and two extra shows Monday/Tuesday December 23-24 at 7:30 pm.






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