Sunday, December 17, 2023

"Holiday Office Party" at Strike Theater

There's a new long-form holiday* improv show in town, and much like Family Dinner (playing at HUGE Theater in Uptown through December 30), Holiday Office Party at Strike Theater in Northeast Minneapolis spoofs a familiar event in many people's lives - the office party. That semi-mandatory party with people who are sort of your friends but not really. I'm going into the office this week (for the first time in six months) to experience the real thing (planned funtivities: trivia and a cookie exchange), but I'm certain that it won't be nearly as fun as the Strike Office Party. A large cast pulled from a troupe of talented improvisers makes awkward small talk, drinks too much, and sings inappropriate karaoke. What's not to love?! There are three more shows this weekend, for the very reasonable price of $12, so check out the fun at your Northeast home for sketch comedy, improv, and storytelling.

On the night I attended, there was a cast of 11 who played different roles at the party (which seemed to be decided ahead of time). Erik Hoversten was The Boss, who would walk into the party and make everyone uncomfortable as he checked on things and made announcements (including my worst nightmare: employees will soon be required to work in the office five days a week and wear professional attire - oh, the horror!). Lacey Mamak and Gubby Kubik Nielsen were the Jim and Pam of the office, flirting outside in the parking lot instead of joining the rest of the employees inside the party, who were played by Sam Landman, Heather Meyer, Nels Lennes, Ryan Robert Nelson, Anna Tobin, and Bailey Murphy. And then we have the caterers played by Kerri Ann O'Halloran and Christian Unser, employees of the seafood establishment known as Crabby Dick's where the party was being held. This is the set up, and from there - anything can happen!

Director Mike Fotis controls the timing and order of the scenes, beginning each with a projected prompt. There are individual "confessionals," with a single improviser speaking to the audience about various topics, like advice for someone entering the workplace, or a secret (a hilarious story by Ryan about a hot air balloon ride gone wrong). A running gag was the retirement of an employee named Jerry (Sam), and the confessionals turned into a video made as a present for Jerry. We also saw the caterers on their breaks, having a smoke and commiserating about their job, and those flirty scenes outside the party. But the funnest scenes were those consisting of awkward party small talk, with the group broken up into smaller groups, talking about weird little nothings as the spotlight moved from one to the other, sometimes just for a sentence, sometimes for a prolonged conversation. 

Throughout all of these short scenes, the performers managed to create distinct characters with defining characteristics - the guy who has a stop-motion Lego YouTube channel, the woman obsessed with agendas - as well as relationships between them. The show is only about an hour long, and I could have easily spent another 20-30 minutes with these characters. But once someone sings "I Touch Myself" at the office Christmas party, there's really nowhere to go from there, so it's probably best to wrap things up and head home.

I may have a new favorite holiday improv show; I would happily attend this Office Party every year (with much easier parking and traffic). If you're looking for some awkward and relatable comedy centered around the workplace, you can see Holiday Office Party this Thursday through Saturday nights. And follow Strike Theater for more improv, sketch comedy, and storytelling in the new year (I hear my other favorite improv show The Great Improvised Bake-Off may be making a return!). And perhaps you can use this show as tips for what not to do at your office party this year.

*Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here