Plano — Fun House Theatre and Film’s refreshingly unapologetic comedy, Ultimate Thanksgiving Experience, mercilessly taunts holiday tradition and modern trends in which the recession, American entitlement and the First Thanksgiving are all fair game in an screwball comedy that bases its comedy off the likes of Saturday Night Live, South Park and The Three Stooges.
In the third installment of Jeff Swearingen's holiday trilogy about nuclear mayhem, Santa Claus (Josh LeBlanc; think Yuletide Captain America) has lost to the trail of the megalomaniac Easter Bunny (Jeremy LeBlanc), who’s bent on world domination. Meanwhile a pint-sized Vladimir Putin (Jack Waterman), who wonders if the ladies like him as much as Justin Bieber, and a sinister Pentagon introduce idiot President Dan Quayle (Brad Weatherford) to his evil clone (Tex Patrello).
But their lives are thrown into chaos when the enigmatic Great Turkey (Swearingen in a turkey suit and Bane mask) appears to enact vengeance for centuries of Thanksgiving genocide, engineers a government shutdown in the United States and stealing every Russian nuclear bomb as part of his plan to unleash a nuclear holocaust upon the world.
As the doomsday clock ticks towards midnight, the President must pull together his ragtag group of heroes once again, and Santa must join forces with his worst enemy in order to save the world.
Ultimate Thanksgiving Experience melds an absurdist sensibility, popularized in sitcoms such as Family Guy, with the largely forgotten style from the Golden Age of comedy, characterized by Abbot and Costello or Clark Gabel films. The result is a collection of fantastical, almost arbitrary, associations and jokes that are (almost) seamlessly integrated into a cohesive, plot-centric story.
Why is the tooth fairy (Karina Cunninghma) a miniaturized version of Mike Tyson? There really is no explanation except that the contrast is witty, but once writer/director Swearingen creates his outlandish characters (Gaga makes an appearance), their visual gags and clever wordplay never hijack the production.
On a larger scale, what is really exciting about Ultimate Thanksgiving Experience is what it promises in the next generation of comic actors. A school for children and teens as well as a theater company, Fun House (which performs at Plano’s Children’s Theatre) immerses young actors in an environment that emphasize responsible storytelling, at the same time encouraging them to push the boundaries of form and content to the breaking point.
The production’s very large cast and longish runtime give many kids of all ages the opportunity to hone their skills in front of an audience, and it is a testament to both students and instructors that the performances were consistent between the younger and older children, and all of them their punchlines as a matter of course (something I can’t say for many adult actors).
Joel Jenkins and Doak Campbell Rapp give standout performances as former KGB agents who trade in espionage to fight a war between Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. The two teenagers are responsible for a significant volume of the comic relief, and they keep their thick Russian accents and Soviet mannerisms from being tiresome by responding honestly to the increasingly outlandish circumstances they find themselves in.
Swearingen’s light touches as a director are apparent in the ownership the cast took in the play, as well as in how comfortable they were onstage. No glorified daycare program, the safety and fecundity of his rehearsal time are obvious onstage.
Design aspects are minimalistic, with rehearsal blocks and a bare stage painted in earthy, autumn tones making up the set. On the whole, costumes consist of Halloween-style apparel, and props are virtually non-existent and, for the most part, left to the audience’s imagination. Far from distracting from the action, however, these touches directing focus back onto the actors, who could easily have been buried by the mountains of props and scenic pieces that might have been used to tell the story.
Ultimate Thanksgiving Experience is a knockout, offbeat piece of theater for adults as well as children—the flaming plum pudding served alongside the other holiday theatrical dishes on various North Texas stages.