A Dick Johnson Christmas Carol December 11-13, 8 p.m.; December 14, 2 p.m.; $14-$19. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.
Poor Richard’s Players have given theater lovers the best Christmas present they could have asked for: A Dick Johnson Christmas Carol, a gaspingly funny show. Written by Mark Valentin and Maxim Lardent, it takes place in the radio studios of WKZP in 1942, and under Lysander Abadia’s direction, the presentational conceit gets pushed as far as it can go. There are live sound effects (from Thomas Chrastka and Arles Estes), but actors also hold up a board of wood for a bar top, or hang a wooden window frame on a coat rack to peer through. The inventive corniness is a well-honed part of the show’s charm, but it’s only the beginning.
Whether it’s Ben Loewy cutting a line of cocaine while singing “White Christmas” or the cast reworking “Carol of the Bells” with the title character’s name, this show has sophomoric humor down to a science—and its rapid-fire pace keeps the jokes coming while layering on even more. For example, early in the show a character named Charity (played by Amanda Kraft) is introduced. Her name is a punchline to drive home to Dick Johnson (Lardent) that he needs more Christmas spirit … and to have a little charity. That expands to a joke about the musical Sweet Charity. Then later there’s a callback when it’s revealed her last name is Case, as in Charity Case, but that’s also a reference to the fact that this is a show about a private eye, who’s constantly trying to solve mysteries. That’s four jokes out of a character’s name. I’ve seen episodes of Saturday Night Live that try to get by on less.
The humor doesn’t just come from bad puns. The entire cast is on fire, filling out exaggerated roles like “Hammer Thumbs” (Anthony Barnaby) with verve and even lending characters like “Townsperson 1” (Thomas Chrastka) and “Wife” (Kraft) a crispness and edge so fine, when the show spoofs the traditional Cratchett family scene, it starts off straightforward and then completely devolves into a hysterical drunken mess. Also, Arles Estes as the Tiny Tim analogue must be seen to be believed.
In a show that’s got more ham than a honeybaked holiday store, no one actually upstages a moment that belongs to someone else, while still responding to the material in specific and funny ways. Brenna Folger’s disgust at an eggnog spit-take is a delightfully dirty joke, an aside that gets laughs without a word and without competing with the main scene. I can dissect this show for hours, but I can’t praise it enough. Give yourself an early holiday present and go.