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Christmas in Bakersfield Goethe-Institut
Remaining Performances: Thursday, July 26, 9 pm
He says: “Heart warming! Hysterical! Puts the fun in family dysfunction. Les finally meets Mike, the man of his dreams. Mike takes Les home to meet his conservative Caucasian family he realizes that he forgot to tell him one small detail, that Les is African American. Oops!”
Trey’s take: Fun and family dysfunction, sure; hysterical, not quite. Les Kurkendaal, if I heard right, works as a stand-up comic, and he certainly has a comedy-clubber’s steely nerves. Good thing, too, ’cause they keep him going even when a half-empty house is responding halfheartedly to his tale of a holiday in enemy territory — Bakersfield, Calif., about which Kurkendaal knows only that it’s home to (a) Hee Haw‘s Buck Owens, (b) Flavor of Love‘s Pumpkin, and (c) the KKK’s California headquarters.
And the story’s every bit as gruesome as you’d imagine: “We’re having ribs, but they’re not in your honor,” boyfriend’s mom says. (And that’s one of the milder mortifications: I’ve got some crackers in my family, but I’d leave the house if they dropped some of the buffoon-bombs Les attributes to his out-laws.)
But I’m surprised that a comic wouldn’t demonstrate better timing. Kurkendaal’s anecdotes could benefit from a little punctuation, and a genuinely first-rate comedy writer (or maybe a director) might find a way to shape ’em and send ’em zinging out into the house. As it is, they tend to amble amiably along, never quite dragging, but never quite dancing, either.
See it if: You think you can’t be surprised by how oblivious some folks still are about race — and about when it needs talking about, and when it’s OK to just eat the damn ribs.
Skip it if: You’re more likely to bridle than giggle when the dotty aunt asks, “Do black people sunburn?”