Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Holiday Round Up Part Two:
Ham for the Holidays—Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? at ACT Theatre and Wonderful Life at ArtsWest

Reviews by David Edward Hughes

Also see Jerry's review of This Christmas and David's reviews of The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Unwrapped


Peggy Platt and Lisa Koch
Photo by Chris Bennion
Ham for the Holidays—Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? is the zillionth (give or take a slice) sweet and saucy Ham served up by those mistresses of merriment, madness and mirth, Lisa Koch, Peggy Platt, and company, and damn my hush puppies and grits, it is the funniest ever. Directed with zippy pacing and keen comic awareness by the indispensable (and brother of Lisa) David Hunter Koch, Ham has thrived and shone even brighter since its move to ACT Theatre a couple seasons back.

This annual seasonal revue, which is just this side of TV's final gasp of great comedy variety shows of the late '60s and early '70s like "The Flip Wilson Show" "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" and of course "The Carol Burnett Show," has relatively little to do with the holidays, but you won't find larger or tastier cuts of ham anywhere this side of Grandma's. Abetted by the regular comic support team of actor/musical director D.J. Gommels and actor Michael Oaks, the stock company this year adds the game tomfoolery of Abbie Mills and, in the kind of dumb hunk role Lyle Waggoner might have filled on the Burnett show, dancer Joel Domenico.

Still, it is the warmly droll Koch and cataclysmically comic Peggy Platt who created and deservedly take center stage. Their old and more recent fans love sketches about the likes of The Colonel and Shenille, a faded '60s singing duo, now forced to perform on a rather toxic river barge casino with no gambling license; the new game show spoof Presidential Family Feud where audience members are cast alongside the gang playing with washed-up White House residents; and the sad-sack and oh so small Sequim Gay Men's Chorus (from a real Clallam County, Washington, town of under 6,700 souls) who keep singing and servin' meal-sized portions of shade at one another.

The only misstep this year is a hybrid "Three's Company meets Orange Is the New Black" hybrid which needs to be fleshed out more, with its gags freshened a touch. But when Koch (a masterful songstress/songwriter) tenderly but surely brings tears to your eyes with a song dedicated to her late dad, or Platt pulverizes us with comic intensity revisiting her seemingly soft-spoken but terrifying slam-poetess, all is well. Saving the best gift for last, the duo's perhaps most beloved comic characters, country/western mother and daughter Euomi (Platt) and Wynotta (Koch) Spudd, take comic aim on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" as peopled with characters from '80s TV soap camp-fest "Dynasty", with "How the Bitch Stole Christmas". You'd have to be a Grinch yourself to keep from guffawing. Oaks is coiffed and dragged out to perfection as Krystle, Gommels is a riot in a dead-on capture of bland but blustering John Forsythe's Blake, while Wynotta/Koch takes on multiple roles (to the displeasure of her butch wife played by Mills) and mama brings down the house in the iconic Joan Collins role of Alexis. Of course "Dynasty" never had writers like Dr. Seuss, but we'll let that pass. But I hope many, many years pass before Koch, Platt, and cohorts retire a show that began as an alternative holiday hit for the GLBT community, and without changing a thing is now something for everyone. I give Ham for the Holidays—Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? my highest recommendation of an MTD (Magic to Do), the equivalent of 4 stars.

Ham for the Holidays—Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? runs through Sunday December 20th, 2015, at ACT Theatre in the Falls Theatre, 700 Union Street, Downtown, Seattle. Tickets*: *$20-40; Available to ACTPass holders. (206) 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.


When I first discovered the beloved Frank Capra directed film It's A Wonderful Life one summer afternoon on a PBS station at age 11, I had two questions. Why is this on in August? And why haven't I (a cinema freak even at 11) heard of this?. Both answers would come to me in time. Though Academy Award nominated for multiple Oscars, film was a flop in 1946, beaten pretty much down the line by the distinguished home from the war classic The Best Years of Our Lives. It didn't get widespread retro recognition until some point in the 1970s. As for airings at Christmas? Well, much of the movie doesn't take place on Christmas Eve, and much of that part is very dark. With fewer TV channels, the likes of this film and the also scantly Christmas related Meet Me in St. Louis only became family hour holiday fare after cable and home video set in.

ArtsWest's Wonderful Life, a one-man version adapted by Helen Pafumi and Jason Lott, is not gimmicky—to its credit. The production benefits greatly from a desolate freeway overpass setting by Shawn Ketchum Johnson, enhanced by moody lighting by William C. Kirkham and dead-on sound design by Matt Starritt. Director Erin Murray tells a condensed but never bare-bones version of the story with clarity and crisp, unrushed pacing. Here, we have an unnamed gent, alone in the night and watching It's A Wonderful Life on his small laptop. He clearly is as despondent and desolate as James Stewart's George Bailey. And he retells the major elements, and voices all the major characters of the story. It is an unsentimental, if not really successful stab at reinventing a sentimental story.

Andrew Lee Creech is clearly a capable, powerful and commanding stage presence, but he is not an ideal interpreter of characters or character voices. His George Bailey is fine, but not given the wide berth he needs to become beloved to an audience His women, from Mary Bailey to Ma Bailey to town tramp Violet Bick, are all one-note caricatures. His Mr. Potter, the villainous, wheelchair-ridden villain of the tale, is his most distinct and compelling achievement, but his presence is also fleeting in a version where we have to meet all of Bedford Falls so quickly (well, he didn't have to play little Tommy or Zuzu, which is probably for the best). I applaud Mr. Creech's sincere, tireless effort, but he just may not have been the right man for the part.

I wanted to like this show very much, and I certainly wasn't bored by it. Two stabs, one by major names, have been made to musicalize it as well, and they were less riveting to my mind than what playwrights Pafumi and Lott shot for here (and the less said about the Marlo Thomas TV remake "It Happened One Christmas" the better). So I am torn, but finally decided to give this show, the last I am reviewing in 2015, a qualified GTG (3 star) rating. And Mr. Creech, I look forward to the next time, truly. To all, a good night from Talkin' Broadway's Seattle guy!

Wonderful Life runs through December 27, 2015, at ArtsWest Playhouse (no shows Dec. 24 and 25), 4711 California Ave SW. For tickets or information contact the ArtsWest box office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at www.artswest.org.

- David Edward Hughes




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