THEATER | Everyone laughs (again) at a “Fat Man Crying”


For many Minnesotans, the Guthrie’s Christmas Carol is the sine qua non holiday show. Think about it, though. The holiday in question celebrates a baby born in a humble stable to parents who were turned away from the inn. When choosing between spending $70 to see an elaborate musical spectacular in a flashy riverfront facility and spending $20 to see a four-person show in a converted service station hidden behind the Steeple People thrift store, consider: WWJD?

fat man crying, a play written and directed by joseph scrimshaw. playing through december 28 at the minneapolis theatre garage, 711 w. franklin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($20) and information, see

I don’t mean to be too flip; having been raised Catholic, I am well aware that many Christians would balk at the idea of the Son of God endorsing any entertainment featuring a running gag about tequila-flavored condoms. Still, one must acknowledge that He would appreciate the family spirit behind the show Fat Man Crying, at which Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw is handling the box office for her husband, actor/writer/director/producer Joseph Scrimshaw—who shares the stage with Tim Uren, the man who married Sara and Joseph in 2006.

Fat Man returns this year to the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, where it debuted last year. Scrimshaw has made some tweaks, but the basic story remains the same: a young married couple (Matt Rein—doing his best Joseph Scrimshaw impression in the role Scrimshaw himself played last year—and Katie Hartman) are enjoying some Christmas Eve canoodling when they are surprised by the arrival of Santa Claus (Uren, happily back to reprise his 2007 performance). The eponymous weeper has lost his magical powers, owing to the soul-sucking selfishness of a man named Dave (Scrimshaw, taking over for his brother Joshua). As Santa drowns his sorrows in whisky, it gradually becomes apparent why he’s chosen this particular happy home—which becomes less happy as the omniscient Claus begins to let slip some of what he knows about who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

Scrimshaw has the tireless spirit of a vaudeville performer. You get the feeling he’ll do anything to make you laugh, but fortunately he’s a clever enough writer that he doesn’t need to resort to cheap gags. (Okay, well…maybe a few that are are priced to sell.) The warmth among the cast members is palpable, even in a production that has every character at odds with every other character most of the time. Scrimshaw’s script is so relentlessly funny and the actors so vigorously pursue every possible laugh that the show takes on the frenetic aspect of a really good improv sketch. You may consider yourself above humor involving battery-operated toy rabbis, but like that jolly old elf, you’ll laugh when you see it—in spite of yourself.

Jay Gabler ( is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.