Curtain Calls

Review: 'The Christma-Hana-Kwanzaa Holiday Spectacular'

Inferno roasts the holidays – all of them

There was something sacrilegious last Friday night about sitting in front of a stage painted to look like Hell and waiting for a Christmas comedy to begin. That alone should have been a clue that "The Christma-Hana-Kwanzaa Holiday Spectacular" would be nothing like a traditional Christmas pageant staged by your local evangelical Christian church. (Okay, so the title was a dead giveaway, too, but work with me here!)
Shortly after 8 p.m. the lights went down and eight normal-looking actors filed onto the stage and struck a pose. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. At least not yet.
But my suspicions were wickedly confirmed only one line into the show when John Hartman passionately broke out into song. "It's the most God-awful tiiiiiime of the year…"
"Yep," I thought with a grin on my face. "I'm gonna like this one."
And I did.
Why? Because it's a laugh-filled antidote to the sugary, sappy and all-too intense holiday season that's now upon us. (Unless you're a fuddy-duddy, that is. If that's you, I strongly suggest you look elsewhere for entertainment.)
The original comedy, now playing at Ann Arbor's Improv Inferno, skewers everything about the holidays that many adults love to hate.
While not all of the skits work, several do stand out.
Mark Sobolewski gives a cutting performance as that one relative every family has who's a little too creepy for everyone's taste – yet for one day a year you welcome him (or her) into your home and act like you really love the bizarre presents he brings.
Not to be left out of the festivities, both Jesus and Santa make appearances – as a crime-fighting duo who, over the course of several vignettes, must apprehend a local gangster. Think "Cops" with a legendary twist, played to many laughs by Hartman, Jonny Victor and the always funny Brian Hatch.
Dan and Trish Izzo verbally duke it out as a Ralph and Alice Kramden-like couple who "discuss" what the husband plans to do in the bathroom just prior to the arrival of company. (One can only speculate on the Izzo's home life outside the theater after watching them go at it here, but that's another story!)
But just when you think the show can't get any more irreverent, the final scene comes along – and in particular, its final line. It might make you think twice about attending your office's next Christmas party. But then again, maybe not.
Also in the show this past Friday were Sabrina Harper, Christy Bonstell and Sara Grieshaber who generated the most laughs with her quick-thinking "cover" when another performance bobbled her lines.
"The Christma-Hana-Kwanzaa Holiday Spectacular" runs Fri. & Sat. nights throughout December (excl. Christmas Eve and NY Eve) at Improv Inferno, 309 S. Main, Ann Arbor. Tickets: $10. For information: 734-214-7080 or For adults only.
The Bottom Line: A merry, happy but certainly not holy holiday treat!

Preview: '2005 Improv Festival and Holiday Fundraiser'

Laugh yourself silly this holiday season for a worthy cause

A holiday tradition begun four years ago as a one-night only homecoming celebration for Metro Detroit's improvisers has blossomed this year into a weeklong event that organizers promise will feed the hungry, help the arts and leave its audiences in good cheer.
It's a tall order, to be sure, but if anyone can accomplish all that, it's the hardworking thespians at Hamtramck's Planet Ant and its popular Improv Colony. "It's a lot of local people having fun," said Eric Maher, the Ant's artistic and executive director.
The festival opens Thursday, Dec. 15 and runs nightly through Thursday, Dec. 22 from 8 p.m. until midnight.
The schedule includes performances by local improv troupes Eye Candy, Bottle of Red, 6 Month Suspension, Tiger Ride and Vegan Meat Locker, plus short comedic videos by The Neutrino Project, Fullerton Productions and Fevered Ego Productions. Live music performances by The Bannisters (a local folk rock band known for its music, video shorts and comedy skits) and 3 Guys Named Joe (three guys, none of whom are named Joe, by the way, who improvise music and songs with only one guitar, a conga drum and three-part harmonies) are also planned.
"It's truly cool, the amount of people who have responded and want to take a slot here and there," Maher said. "Everyone gets together and performs like maniacs every day."
Admission to most events is a $3 donation.
One free event takes place Sunday, Dec. 18 at 4 p.m. "Margaret Edwartowski teaches a long form improv class, and that's when they'll be doing their final class project."
But the highlight of the festival is the fifth annual Planet Ant Colony Holiday Blowout on Monday, Dec. 19. The evening begins at 7 p.m. with photos taken on Anta Claus's lap – yes, you read that correctly – and continues with a dizzying array of five-minute skits by some of the area's best improvisers. The night also includes a canned goods collection for the needy, a raffle and games played for fabulous prizes. Admission is $5 plus a canned good, or $6 cash.
It was while watching last year's jam-packed Blowout that Maher and Edwartowski decided to expand the one-nighter into a weeklong celebration. "We said, 'Why don't we make it so that a bunch of people can be involved and not pack it all into one night,'" Maher recalled. "So Margaret, Pete Jacokes, Elaine Hendriks and Nancy Hayden put this all together."
With both the arts and local charities experiencing a downturn in financial help these days, Maher stressed that the main focus of the festival is to raise money for both the Ant and a local soup kitchen. "It should be exciting and a lot of fun."
"2005 Improv Festival and Holiday Fundraiser" runs nightly from Thu., Dec. 15 – Thu., Dec. 22 at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Admission is generally a $3 donation, but varies by event. For complete information, call 313-365-4948 or log on to