The Elf may not enjoy this, but you will

By John Lyle Belden

For an Elf, labor at the Toy Workshop is like a factory job anywhere in the world, with lunch hour your one respite from the constant grind. Being in the desolate dark zone above the Arctic Circle, when one of your workers – who has issues, to say the least – requests to entertain the crew with a “celebration of truth and pure being” during the break, it’s a good idea to let him ramble his weird poetry or whatever.

But as we see reenacted at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center, when “ProZack the Sad Elf” gets an unused storage room to put on his show, things get weirder than usual. Apparently, this year we get “The ProZack Holiday Musical (No, it’s not!)” starring Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, and a demented Tree.

ProZack provides profound spoken verse with titles like “Nothingness,” and “Untitled.” Tinsel plays and sings holiday songs, even after he’s killed. Videographer Snowflake is up to some visual trickery. Tinkle tries to bring “levity” but has problems with his puppet, Mr. Tree, whose anger is growing, and growing. Meanwhile Glister, the industrial death metal Elf, has caught a worrying case of sentimentality.

With so much going wrong, ProZack has to frequently go backstage, where Snowflake also set up cameras. We see the elves interact and try to find their way through this madness that includes odd holiday movie references and the secret of what’s stored away in that “empty” room.

Not to mention the literal “Star” of the show…

With the help of multimedia and other effects, Asaykwee delivers a fun and surprisingly action-packed one-person show, masterfully juggling the various personae throughout the two-act “lunch hour.” There was much laughter, some finger-snapping (how you applaud poetry), and a bit of innuendo – so this is for humans of double-digit age (or relative equivalent for elves or other mythical beings).

“ProZack The Sad Elf,” also created, written, and directed by Asaykwee, runs through Dec. 23 on the Basile Theatre stage at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St. in downtown Indianapolis. Get information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

Executive dysfunction in holiday parody

By John Lyle Belden

As we settled in for a long winter’s viewing of “The North Wing,” an original Christmas musical presented by Defiance Comedy at the IndyFringe theatre, Molly North, assistant to the show’s writer and director, Matt Kramer, said this is like if “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin had (presumably under the influence of something) decided to write about the Santa Claus Workshop at the North Pole, and add music.

Well… there is a “walk-and-talk” scene, so we’ll go with that.

Since Burl Ives is dead and Josh Gad costs too much, we have the lovely Paige Scott as our narrator, Jeff the Snowman, ironically with a warmer heart than her other role, Mrs. Claus. The former is charming, literally disarming, and proud to be “a waste of resources.” The latter seems to take pleasure in being naughty – which could be a problem in this setting.

Clay Mabbitt is Thomas the Human (not the one shipped off to New York, that’s another musical), the leading assistant to retiring Head Elf, Mr. Hinkle-Twinkle (Ben Rockey, one of a number of Elfin roles) who apparently learned to speak English by watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” After another Christmas Eve in which holiday spirit is down, the old man steps down and, before Thomas can be promoted, Mrs. Claus announces an outside hire: Janet (Meg McLane) the human former executive of a Toy Corporation, who has lots of ideas for improving things at The North Wing.

Imminent changes with only 364 Days Until Christmas have elf executive assistant Beatrice (Shelby Myers), Phil the Elf (Austin Hookfin), and random Elves (Rockey and Robin Kildall) very worried. It doesn’t help that Judy Sparkles of North Pole News (Kelsey VanVoorst) reports that disaster is inevitable. It’s enough to drive one to drink – with libations served by Blumpkin the reindeer bartender (VanVoorst in antlers and red nose).

As befits a story inspired by real-world political intrigue, this all gets really silly, really fast. And there are songs. And dancing (choreography by Emily Bohannon). And romance. And, of course, the traditional plots to destroy/save Christmas.

To rescue the holiday, there is a quest for the next must-have toy, which brings – at 164 days to Christmas – the arrival of Binky the Toy Tester (Kildall). Will the thingamajig pass muster? Will it matter?

This cast works together smoothly, and I was particularly impressed with Myers’ performance. The more dramatically inclined Mabbitt makes a great straight man to set up fellow goofballs. Scott’s ability to switch between clown and villain is fun to watch.

As we’ve come to expect from Defiance, this show is full of gut-splitting hilarity and features a number of improv veterans, so expect anything. Also as usual, there’s a bit of ribald innuendo, but aside from the “Naughty” edition 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, there is a “Nice” more all-ages version at 3 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 9-11).

See their style of wacky comedy that sells out Fringe festival shows, now in two full acts, at IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis. Get tickets at indyfringe.org.