THEATER REVIEW | Brave New Workshop’s “Fifty Shades of White: A Minnesota XXXmas” shows another side of Santa


The Brave New Workshop has opened with their annual seasonal show, this year titled Fifty Shades of White: A Minnesota XXXmas. Unlike their seasonal shows for the past few years, this is all new material. Many of the skits, with an emphasis on the naughty side of Christmas, are high-energy and hilarious—but I did miss the usual rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” which was always the highlight of past seasonal shows.

The opening skit is a takeoff on the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, about which artistic director Caleb McEwen makes scathing comments in the program notes. Because the book shows the naughty side of otherwise mild-mannered middle-aged women, the Brave New Workshop has suitably deemed it to be a perfect target for biting satire. The fun begins with a rousing tango number titled “Merry Christmas, Your Mom is Reading Porn” featuring Lauren Anderson. It is followed by a quasi-erotic, highly suggestive, and downright dirty reading of “The Night Before Christmas” narrated by the nice Taj Ruler with a very naughty Santa played by Andy Hilbrands. Despite the hilarity of the scene, it also creates a certain level of discomfort to think of Santa Claus in these terms.

Another skit about returning personal vibrators to Brookstone quickly morphed into one big comic euphemism about the code words used to mask the vibrators’ true purposes.  Another enjoyable skit involved Old Country Buffet, “where you go to eat and die.” But the show loses energy in a skit featuring Bobby Gardner and Taj Ruler as a couple exchanging presents on their first Christmas together. Gardner’s over-the-top reaction to getting a paper shredder continued long after I lost interest in the sketch. A running gag about Rule being an elf also does not work well.

During the second half, the performance I attended started to really pick up steam with a running joke about an audience member named Laura. As far as I could tell, she was a randomly selected “volunteer” who took the repeated references to her and her husband with incredibly good grace. The cast even used Laura’s life to do their own version of A Christmas Carol. The best scene in the show was Lauren Anderson’s karaoke version of “Frosty the Snowman,” when she is portraying  a drunk employee at an office Christmas party. When Anderson  broadcast her alleged one-night stand with Laura’s husband and its aftermath, the entire audience broke up with huge laughter.

Although a few skits go on too long, this is otherwise a consistently hilarious show and it was obvious the audience was having a great time. The Brave New Workshop is offering a 5:00 p.m. show on Saturdays, which is great timing because when you get out you have just enough time to go to Nicollet Avenue to see the downtown Holidazzle Parade.

Read reviews of previous Brave New Workshop holiday shows Brett Favre’s Christmas Spectacular: The Immaculate Interception (review by Rebecca Collins, 2009) and Brett Favre’s Christmas Spectacular II: The Second Coming (review by Kate Gallagher, 2010).

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.