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Review: Brave New Workshop’s sketch comedy revue, ‘Angels We Have Heard Are High,’ satirizes the stress of the season

November 26, 2018

That’s one way to take the edge off the holidays. As a typical American family gathers for its cheery but stress-filled reunion, a son (cutting and insightful Denzel Belin) brings home a dessert that mom ordinarily doesn’t like. This fruitcake that he baked is just for the kids — and it’s infused with marijuana.

But mom (comic genius Lauren Anderson), who has vowed not to be too high-strung, is trying new things. She gobbles down a big piece of the cake, and pretty soon, she has the munchies and is talking like she’s swimming in jello.

Full of quirky physical humor, the sketch is one of the more evocative ones in the Brave New Workshop’s annual holiday comedy revue, this year entitled “Angels We Have Heard Are High (O Holy Crap!).”

There’s a theme there about loosening inhibitions. The workshop’s traditional holiday show has always functioned as a bit of counterprogramming at a time when goody-goody messages and festive cheer animate the Guthrie (“A Christmas Carol”), the Children’s Theatre (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) and Penumbra (“Black Nativity”).

It’s written by the performers — Anderson, Belin and expert jokester Taj Ruler are joined by plunge-in-with-both-feet workshop newcomer Doug Neithercott. “Angels” is directed by artistic director Caleb McEwen and features the comic music of Jon Pumper.

“Angels,” which closes out the workshop’s 60th season, offers laughs aplenty as it satirizes the holidays.

Belin and Neithercott face off as Salvation Army bellringers who compete tonally for the donation of a passerby (Anderson). It’s all done with music. This witty, wordless sketch, which comes in the middle of the act, helps “Angels” to breathe.

But most of “Angels” is expressed in satirical words — sung, spoken, and, occasionally, spat out.

The company takes aim at the relentless cheer that we experience in public and private spaces. In a sketch called “Honesty,” carolers grow progressively angrier the more they sing. Funnier than it sounds.

The tagline for a sketch called “Triggered Christmas” is “how dare you wear my suffering as jewelry.” Gift-giving can be so challenging.

And the company brings back its annual sendup of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This number is a favorite because it is lugubriously funny. And it’s always a stitch to see the actors crack themselves up, trying not to smile as they lose their places.

The workshop always tells audiences to be prepared to be deeply offended, a tongue-in-cheek warning. “Angels” contains a skit entitled “Seasonal Gas Disorder” that gives us the sounds and names of different kinds of flatulence. OK, that may be a sound too far.

rpreston@startribune.com • 612-673-4390 • Twitter: @rohanpreston

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