In a nameless bar on Christmas Eve, the future of mankind will be decided.
Okay, it's more the future of a nutty comic-book writer, his long-suffering artist, and a trio of lonely sad sacks, but it still makes for a fresh holiday-season delight from playwright Bill Corbett (of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and Rifftrax fame) and Joking Envelope. Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1 posits a world without Christmas—and with the blood-red avenger from the planet Yoooool.
Writer Desmond (Joseph Scrimshaw) has an idea that will shake the comic-book—er, graphic-novel—world to its core and help to restart his own fledgling career: a reboot of the holiday season, in which Santa Claus becomes the brooding Red Avenger, a not-at-all-jolly elf with rippling abs, a rocket-powered sled, and a "ho ho ho" meant to frighten the thugs he battles.
Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1
Joking Envelope at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.
Through Dec. 18, 612.280.9210
Trying to talk some sense into Desmond is his artist partner Libby (Emily Gunyou Halaas), who thinks he may have gone just a bit too far in his attempt to "retcon" the holiday. Their judges? Bartender Carl (John Middleton), lonely Francine (Mo Perry), and antisocial Grub (Matt Erkel).
As Desmond explains his vision further, Rudolf becomes Caribou, an experiment-gone-wrong by the baddies who solves trouble with his hooves and whose nose turns bright red when he's angry. Then there's Frostina, a scantily clad representative of the earth spirit who is an update of Frosty the Snowman.
The free mixing of holiday stories and traditions continues on in the nutty plot, which also involves the oppressive H Corp.'s desire to stamp out all joy in the world and the efforts by our intrepid team to protect the unborn child of George and Mary Bailey, a "wonder baby" who will bring hope and joy to the entire world.
Arrayed against our heroes are Scrooge, the Grinch, the rat from The Nutcracker, Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life, and Hans Gruber, the villain from Die Hard. Corbett's storyline mash-ups skewer plenty of worthy targets, first among those the mad, hyper-violent, and downbeat comics that have dominated the field for a quarter-century. Corbett also takes aim at the confusing layers of holiday stories, mixing and matching different pieces (a pinch of Dickens, a sprinkle of Rankin and Bass, oh, and that religious bit too) into a messy whole. All that's missing—as is acknowledged in the script—is Charlie Brown.
The quintet of talented performers makes this all the more entertaining. Scrimshaw leads with his usual unbridled enthusiasm, taking a character with plenty of flaws and making us want to see him succeed, or at least see the light. His alter egos, the Red Avenger and the Grinch, are played absolutely over the top.
Halaas equals Scrimshaw in the madness of her comic-book characters, from the stooped and bitter Scrooge to the all-encompassing Frostina, while Erkel has great fun with the raging Grub and the even more raging Caribou. Middleton and Perry play more mild-mannered heroes but still find plenty of fun with the gosh-golly pair of George and Mary.
While the "real" world provides an anchor for the story, it's the comic-book creation that really takes off. It's not just the delight in seeing familiar creations recast as muscle-bound, barely clad superheroes. There's a lot of pulpy fun in the comic-book story itself: Who doesn't love a small band of heroes fighting insurmountable odds against legions of robotic death machines?
That makes Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1's final "battle"—in the bar, about how to truly end the story—all the more touching and insightful. Sure, it's all silly, but you want an honest, earned end to the silliness rather than the cynical one Desmond thinks will sell out on day one.