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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Brave New Workshop, Manger Crashers, or Three Wise Guys with a Pack of Camels

Manger Crashers
John Bungert, Mike Fotis, Lauren Anderson, and Joe Bozic
By this time of the year, it's pretty easy to be sick of the whole Christmas - or Holiday for us heathens - season. Crazed scenes at shopping centers, endless and mindless debates on whether or not people have lost the true meaning of the season, and the horrible realization that the ice, snow and cold aren't going anywhere for the next few months combine to make the time of joy pretty miserable.

Thankfully, the Brave New Workshop is feeling like Scrooge as well. The long-standing comedy troupe's latest show, Manger Crashers, or Three Wise Guys with a Pack of Camels, sports a focused, take-no-prisoners approach to the holidays.

While the Brave New Workshop is close to 50 years old, the theater remains fresh through the generations of young comedians and writers that have plied their skills on the small stage at 26th and Hennepin. The current crop - Lauren Anderson, Joe Bozic, John Bungert and Mike Fotis - are more than game for the wild and physical humor that forms the backbone of Manger Crashers.

This is clear from the first skit, an action/martial arts movie parody of holiday shopping at the Mall of America. The references are pretty crusty (one bit is taken from Raiders of the Lost Ark for heaven's sake), but the Matrix-like battle with a Salvation Army bell ringer should bring some dark glee to the heart of any Christmas shopper.

A number of highlights follow the opener, including a brain-dead drummer's improvised holiday "gift" for his girlfriend (reprised later with a visit by a rock 'n' roll Santa Claus); three no-so-wise men who visit the baby Jesus and bicker about the gifts they brought; and a wonderful take on the "12 Days of Christmas" recast as statements from an angry dad.

The evening's best sketch involves a couple returning from a holiday dinner. The two are typically repressed Minnesotans, either more interested in blathering on about nothing (the woman) or just driving home, without talking (the man). Finally, the incessant noise and nagging drive the henpecked husband over the edge, into a Basil-Fawlty-worthy outburst of what he actually thinks. It's very funny, and very honest, which makes it work all that much more.

Manger Crashers falters when it moves away from the Christmas theme. While a sketch of a snowball-fight-as-cliched-World-War-II movie works for the most part (including the show's second Matrix sequence, this one set to the music from the first film's famous lobby shootout) because it is set during winter, other bits don't fare as well. A couple of first-act sketches - including a largely pointless one set in Appalachia - drag the pace down considerably, but the show recovers quickly and ends with a near flawless second half.

Manger Crashers, or Three Wise Guys with a Pack of Camels runs through Jan. 14 at the BNW Theatre, 605 Hennepin Avenue in Uptown . For information and tickets, call (612) 332-6620 or visit www.bravenewworkshop.com.


- Ed Huyck



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