AISLE SAY Twin Cities

or: Some Assembly Required

Written and Performed by
Corey Anderson, Lauren Anderson, Katy McEwen,
Jim Robinson, and Jason Tomalia
Directed by Caleb McEwen
Brave New Workshop
2605 Hennepin Avenue South
(612) 332-6620

November 19-January 15, 2005

Reviewed by Roxanne Sadovsky

Even though I’ve been going to the main-stage show at Brave New Workshop for several years I can’t seem to keep the cast straight; I never know who’s going to show up for each show and inevitably there’s someone I swear I’ve never seen before. It’s taken three years in a row of Christmas/Channukah/Kwanza shows plus most shows in between for me to finally realize it doesn’t matter who’s up there because it’s always funny. Pee your pants funny. ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ funny. ‘These guys are so lucky to do what they do! I am so frickin’ jealous’ funny! A Very Ikea Christmas is no exception. It’s really really really really funny. The question isn’t "to go" or "not to go;" there’s no reason not to because what the world needs now is laughter, sweet laughter.

Without giving away more than the title already does, the 2-act anthology of holiday sketches satirizes, as always, the shallow values that corrupt most Americans during the shopping season. With Christmas and its yuletide traditions as the backdrop for the cast to throw its punches, this year’s guilty capitalist is Mall of America’s new neighbor, Ikea. Through songs, skits, and all the expected group mayhem, Ikea captures contemporary consumerism with impeccable timing; it didn’t take long to catch on to the hidden truths of Ikea and its followers that we, the normal/dull wits of the world, fail to see–or acknowledge aloud anyway. For example, Ikea is cheap. Okay: in itself, not so funny, but when BNW weaves that concept into a song and dance number with Oompa Loompa take-offs donning sky blue Ikea bags around the midriff, it’s darn funny. What makes this collection especially funny is the timing, the accuracy, and most of all, the total conviction that allows each cast member to keep a straight face. Nothing matters more than the wonderful world of Kerndnasdixmfa. True, but not. This makes us laugh, as does the tremendous group of talent who serve as the couriers of all this glee.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few dull spots. There always are because there are different types of people who think different things are funny; to appeal to the masses, BNW is forced to dumb it down every so often, which in the shadow of its sharp and intelligent norm is barely noticeable. More than anything, BNW’s holiday stage parade once again reminds us that there are a million ways to tell a story, but what’s important is how much you can balance what is touching and funny, while challenging us to look (and laugh) at ourselves. As for the cast, the five players work well together; no one stands out, which is how it should be. THEY stand out; without one another, it wouldn’t work as well (obviously, but I think you know what I mean; sometimes there is a tendency in comedy for one person to be the focus, but here it is the collective).

Live musical accompaniment is provided by the accomplished hands of Peter Guertin, who not only backs the vocal performances expertly, but also doubles up on the various sound effects that provide frosting on this comedic cake.

The other really great thing about Ikea is that there is nothing hurtful, overly offensive or too raunchy; the laughs run deeper than that, appealing universally without having to poke fun with a fist. The only faux pas to Ikea occurred late in the first act, but by the time the second act kicked off, the memory was long gone. For most, that is:

I think anytime a comedy troupe who is well versed in improvisation invites audience participation, it is risky, but when it is part of a scripted show, it can get ugly, especially when the comedy troupe isn’t sure what it’s doing. Though it pains me to say so, in all fairness (and loyalty to my own principals), a complicated audience-participation skit–despite the best comedic intentions–was executed in poor taste. To make a long story short, while it may be a total coincidence, the style of scene in question was reminiscent of a very powerful form of therapeutic theater called Playback Theatre, which utilizes audience members and storytelling to foster personal and community healing, often from trauma (In Minneapolis, for example, River’s Edge Playback Theatre focused one show on the trauma of 9/11, so we’re talking huge here.). While Ikea’s scene was hardly that–borrowing a series of Christmas memories from an audience member for the cast to reenact–the outcome was still powerful, which made the whole thing bomb. Everyone was uncomfortable: the actors, the audience, the poor girl on stage, and then some. Even though the actors did a good job and were very careful in dealing with a potentially dangerous subject, the problem is that anything that involves reenactment of true life’s events, particularly reenactments of your life story, gets under your skin like nothing else. On one hand, Playback makes a powerful form of therapy in the hands of trained professionals; on the other hand, it can be dangerous when handled recklessly. I think I made my point.

After happy-go-lucky director Caleb McEwen (stellar improviser and integral part of BNW''s corporate events services) leaps on stage and delivers a warm and proud thanks to his cast, crew, and audience, as is customary after BNW shows, he concludes with: "If you liked the show, please tell everyone you know; if you didn’t, what better way to fuck someone over!" So, with their fate in my laptop, I am here to tell everyone I know to go. Laugh hard, have some popcorn and beer, but whatever you do, don’t get on that stage.

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