THEATER | Joking Envelope's "Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1": Superheroes save Christmas with Minneapolis Theatre Garage logic

l-r: Mo Perry, Joseph Scrimshaw, Emily Gunyou Halaas. Photo courtesy Joking Envelope.

The downtown Minneapolis Macy's staff seem to have no budget for, and little interest in, changing the subject of their eighth-floor auditorium holiday display—and even if they did, it's proabably highly unlikely that they'd choose to adapt Bill Corbett's new play Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1. That said, it's both a compliment to and a criticism of the play that Macy's would almost be on safely inoffensive ground producing the story as a family-friendly animatronic display, despite the fact that the plot climaxes with alternate-universe incarnations of Santa Claus and the naked baby Jesus flying through the sky on a blood-red rocket, punching and kicking at brutal hordes of evil drones.

In writer/director Corbett's play, being presented this holiday season by Joking Envelope at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, a depressed writer of comic books (Joseph Scrimshaw) and his bitter ex-girlfriend (Emily Gunyou Halaas) bet a boozy Christmas Eve's worth of drinks consumed by both patrons of a dive bar (Matt Erkel, Mo Perry) that the tipsy two will prefer the ex-girlfriend's suggested ending to the currently scripted ending of a fantasy story recently invented by the writer. The story, of which most of the play consists of the telling, casts characters from pop-culture Christmas lore (Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, Scrooge, the Grinch, Jesus) as superheroes in a comic-book mashup of seasonal stories.

super-powered revenge christmas #1, presented through december 18 at the minneapolis theatre garage. for tickets ($20) and information, see jokingenvelope.com.

By this point you probably have a pretty good idea as to whether or not you'll enjoy this show, and I'm here to tell you that you're absolutely correct. If the premise amuses you, you'll get a kick out of the execution. If you're not so sure, you're unlikely to be convinced. Corbett's script is not bad, but it also manages to miss every opportunity to take this material beyond the basic premise. It could be shocking, but it's not. It could be deliciously absurd, but it's not. It could be brainy, but it's not really—you might miss a few cultural references, but you probably don't bat 1.000 at Trivial Pursuit, either. Is it funny? Well, at the Monday night performance about a third of the audience laughed really hard all the way through, about a third chuckled often, and about a third smiled with amusement sometimes. Which group will you fall in? Well, how excited are you about hearing a horny man-deer make suggestive remarks about a curvaceous goddess of winter?

The sterling cast, which also includes John Middleton, throw themselves at this material with tremendous energy, and for jaded frequent theatergoers like me, the best thing about the play is the chance it offers to see a pro like Mo Perry stand two feet in front of you and summon a telepathic superpower with as much dedication as Meryl Streep crying about the dingo that ate her baby. Halaas in this show reminded me of Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy, demonstrating a truly superhuman ability to find genuine emotion in a completely ridiculous situation. Middleton and Erkel mine as many laughs from their throwaway lines as from their big gags, and as for Scrimshaw—well, if you're going to watch a man stand on a pool table and make a baby doll fight invisible flying attackers, there's probably no man in Minnesota you'd rather have doing it.

In naming their company Joking Envelope, Scrimshaw and his wife Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw cited Sigmund Freud's observation that humor can be "an envelope for thoughts of the greatest substance." This particular envelope won't yield any deep thoughts, but it's certainly fun to watch this cast hold it upside down for a while and shake it really, really hard. This production unapologetically embraces the weirdness of theater, the pure joy of an art form that encourages grown adults to dress up and run around acting like someone they're not, someone who doesn't even exist. Please don't misunderstand me, though, kids—I'm not saying Santa doesn't exist! He certainly does, and you should be sure to get to bed nice and early on Christmas Eve. Santa will be dropping off your presents, just as soon as he finishes beating the hell out of a horde of killer robots.

This production is featured in the Daily Planet's complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you'll know who's been naughty and who's been nice.
711 W. Franklin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55405
612-870-0723