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'Kristmas Karol' ups the ante on B&B slapstick

COURTESY PHOTO: CASEY CAMPBELL PHOTOGRAPHY - Bag&Baggage Productions presents 'A KBNB Kristmas Karol' at the Venetian Theatre starting Nov. 27.It all started three years ago with some rum-soaked fruit cake and a missing sound effects artist. It went even farther last year, when a mob boss took the entire cast hostage and they were saved by the world’s most effeminate police detective.

Now the crazy radio stars of KBNB are returning to the stage for the final installment in Bag & Baggage Productions' 1940s holiday radio trilogy, “A KBNB Kristmas Karol,” written and directed by artistic director Scott Palmer.

The golden age of radio is coming to an end, as well as the careers of the KBNB stars, and they’re coming together for one last slapstick performance before their studio is destroyed to make room for a television sound stage. The show will feature the return of some of the same characters from the critically acclaimed prequels, “It’s A (Somewhat) Wonderful Life” and “A Miracle on 43rd Street.” This year, new characters will come into play — Lana’s younger, psychopathic sister Laverne (Jessi Walters), a German post-modern film director (Phillip Berns) and a greedy television executive (Peter Schuyler) — who all join forces to hilariously butcher the granddaddy of all holiday shows: "A Christmas Carol."

“At the show’s start, the KBNB cast returns to find all of their stuff missing 20 minutes before they’re supposed to go on air, and mayhem pretty much ensues,” said Schuyler.

When the TV exec arrives, he forces the KBNB cast to go on with the show anyway — a Christmas Eve live broadcast of Charles Dickens’ classic, "A Christmas Carol." All of the installments are meant to be 1940s radio spoofs for the holiday season.

“Heartfelt, warm, Christmas-y — we don’t do that here,” said Palmer. “We make terrible mockeries.” HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: MICHAEL SPROLES - Gary Strong, Peter Schuyler and Andrew Beck rehearse a fight during a practice last Sunday for Bag&Baggages production of A KBNB Kristmas Karol.

Unlike in previous years, there will be nothing on stage but the actors. The previous installments were quite prop-driven, but this year the props are pantomimed and the sound effects come from the actors themselves. According to Jessica Geffen, a returning performer in the trilogy, audience members can close their eyes and still hear a beautiful story. Palmer wanted to make it harder this year.

“After two years of inventing hilarious sound effects, sight gags, puns and chaos, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to come up with anything new,” he said. “I was 100 percent wrong. Working with these veteran actors has enabled us to double down on the comedy and find brand new ways of skewering a beloved holiday classic.”

“There’s also more of a Three Stooges kind of feel this year, lots and lots of choreography,” said Gary Strong, another returning performer in the KBNB saga who’s played KBNB Radio Classics’ manager, Winston Whiteside, since 2013. “These shows are a little bit like running a decathlon; it is complete madness.”

The show is decked to the halls with fight choreography and physical comedy, thanks to Jon Armor, the show’s fight coordinator.

“He’s actually our violence coordinator,” Schuyler joked.

The performance is labeled PG-13 while pushing an R rating — an antithesis of Christmastime B&B tradition.

“All three of the installments were written by me, it’s all my fault,” Palmer confessed.

The show clocks in at around two hours long, and the cast has been practicing since the middle of October.

“It’s challenging. There’s always two or more things going on on stage,” said Andrew Beck, who plays Donald Donaldson, one of the KBNB crew. “If you go a second time, it’s fun, because you get to see things that you missed the first time.”

Last year, the second installment drew audience members who watched the show eight different times, each viewing dedicated to paying attention to one character so they could experience every comedic bit that occurred. Palmer tries to one-up previous year's performances every time.

The show also features Jeremy Sloans returning as the hilariously scandalous police officer Gilroy Gildersleeve, and Clara Hillier as Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick. Palmer added that a theater company in Philadelphia wants to put on the entire trilogy at some point for future holiday seasons.

“A KBNB Kristmas Karol” premieres at The Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., on Nov. 27, and also plays Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 3-6, 10-13 and 17-23. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday. There are also 7:30 p.m. shows Dec 21, 22 and 23. Ticket information can be found online at bagnbaggage.org.

This year B&B is partnering with The Backpack Project, a nonprofit organization based in Hillsboro that provides food assistance to economically disadvantaged families during the holidays. B&B asks all patrons to bring a donation of food (particularly peanut butter, dry cereal or canned fruit) with them to the performance of their choice.

“Over the years, our audience has become attached to this take on Christmas,” Palmer said. “It’s the most successful series we have, and it’s already selling incredibly well.”