Regional Reviews: Seattle
Ham for the Holidays: Swine, Women & Song revives Sketch Comedy at Theatre Off-Jackson
Also see David's review of Jersey Boys
Don you now your gay apparel and head on over to Theatre Off-Jackson for what may be the jolliest and most irreverent offering of Seattle's holiday season. It's a brand new, heaping serving of Ham for the Holidays (this edition subtitled Swine, Women & Song), which offers the welcome return of comediennes Lisa Koch and Peggy Platt, the pair that dominated Seattle's comic cabaret scene throughout the 1990s. Returning to their favorite venue, the cozy Theatre Off-Jackson in the International district of Downtown Seattle, Koch and Platt have penned most of the sketches and a few original songs. Add in actor/drag chanteuse Andrew Tasakos and musical director/comic D.J. Gommels, and you have a sort of gay friendlier Carol Burnett Show.
The show kicks off brightly with Lisa and Peggy as a septuagenarian pair known as the Matrons of the Blues, who raise a ruckus with their anti-terrorism presentations at the fictional Renton Municipal airport. The humor they mine making fun of senior stereotypes is never mean-spirited, and indeed several audience members who looked to be well past 60 seemed to particularly engaged by being satirized. Then it's Tasakos' turn, and he tears into his self-penned sketch, "A Christmas Moment with Suze Orman" (we've all seen this annoying money management doyenne on cable, haven't we?), with bitchy relish. A current game show is spoofed merrily as the gang rope some audience members into being contestants on "Are You Smarter Than the President?", and another audience participation bit "Shakespeare for Dummies" worked like a dream at the performance I attended, due in no small part to the engaging young pair from the audience who wouldn't have known Romeo and Juliet from Laverne and Shirley.
Gommels draws guffaws in his own drag turn as one "Guya Angelou" reading her own pretentious and odd version of "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The two high points of the show are the act closers. Act one's is a succinct but not insulting riff on Gay Men's chorus, "The Sequim Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Chorus," who perform a rousing medley of song spoofs, and Tasakos steals this one as a transsexual who could only afford to get half his transformation done. And the honey glaze on top of this "Ham"? Why that would be Lisa and Peggy's most celebrated characters, Euomi and Wynotta Spudd, who, along with one of Mama Euomi's countless husbands and a fey neighbor played by Tasakos, put Gone With The Wind and It's A Wonderful Life through the meat grinder and come up with a gut-busting It's A Wonderful Wind which any cinema enthusiast will surely enjoy. Platt alone gets huge laughs just by saying "Oh fiddle dee dee" as only Mama Spudd can.
Director Kit Harris keeps the show moving along brightly, and creates a strong ensemble feeling.
Scenic designer Dawn Lamphier Simon does a great deal to create a variety of visual moods within the small playing space at the TOJ, and Kevin Sharkey's costume designs are the essence of kitschy low budget charm. Leave others to their Nutcrackers and go crackers at Ham for the Holidays: Swine, Women & Song, an affordably priced and upbeat entertainment.
Ham for the Holidays: Swine, Women & Song runs through December 30, 2007 at Theatre Off-Jackson, 409 Seventh South at Jackson in the International district. For ticket purchase online go to www.TicketWindowOnline.com.- David Edward Hughes