Bob's Holiday Office Party - Theatre Review

Bob's Holiday Office Party makes its way to the Atwater Village Theatre for its 21st consecutive year of drunken revelry. I must admit that I'd never heard of this long-running show until seeing it, but now I'll be hard-pressed to forget.

Most perennial classics tend to wear out their welcome eventually (how many ways can one put a twist on A Christmas Carol?), so it'd be reasonable to fear that Bob's would have lost some of its bite over the past two decades. Fortunately, the opposite seems to be the case. The cast (most of which have been coming back to Bob's year after year) have developed such an arresting, natural chemistry that effortlessly carries the audience through 90+ minutes of insanity. In a time when self-obsessed "raunchy comedy" is breaking box-office records, it's refreshing to see a show so humble and generous in its depravity.

The (admittedly thin) story is classic holiday fare: small-town insurance salesman Bob Finnhead (co-writer and perfect straight man Rob Elk) must decide whether to sell his business and pursue his dreams, or stay with the kooky, lovable, irksome folk he's lived with his whole life. That's it. Refreshingly unpretentious, with a strong focus on distinct, uproarious characters and intoxicating ambience. The lack of story would present a problem in a show less confident in its anarchy. Most scenes are just joke-laden, inconsequential conversations between Bob and fellow residents of Neuterberg, Iowa: the alcoholic Sheriff Joe (co-writer Joe Keyes), twin farmers LaDonna and LaVoris (Maile Flanagan and Melissa Denton), the nogoodnik stoner Marty (Mark Fite), and so on. What must have started as over-the-top caricatures when the show began in the 90s, have since evolved into multi-layered characters. Still over-the-top, sure, but recognizable.

Once the party starts going and the booze starts flowing, the play often breaks out into periods of controlled chaos, with multiple tableaus of off-the-wall hilarity happening simultaneously. It's worth seeing the show multiple times just to make sure you didn't miss anything (and to see both casts, as some roles are played by different actors on different nights). Every single member of the cast I saw is a talented comic actor, putting their skills to use in a way not afforded by more structured shows.