As someone who loves theater, I hate December (and I hate it even more because in the world of theater, December starts the week before Thanksgiving). It seems like one of two things happens to theaters in December: either they are finishing their run of something great that opened in November, or they have lost their will to live and are staging some kind of heartwarming holiday show. I don’t care if it’s an ironic, hipster holiday show. Maybe this is my vaguely-Jewish Communist-flavored upbringing talking, but if I don’t get why ugly Christmas sweaters are funny, then I’m definitely not going to want to see “Great-Aunt Martha’s Holiday Hot Dish-a-palooza,” or really anything with “holiday” in the title, even if you swear it’s going to be hilarious.
So I had mixed feelings going into Beaverdance: A Marxist Holiday Fur Trade Musical! I like Marxism. I dig the voyageurs (I am a French teacher, after all). And I was pretty sure I knew where the show was going with the beavers. But the “holiday” business? That could’ve been a step too far.
Lucky for me, aside from the fact that Karl Marx is dressed in a Santa suit for most of the show, Beaverdance has nothing to do with the holidays. In fact, I only have two small complaints about it, and one of them is that Marx wishes us a Merry Christmas at the end. Isn’t Christmas the ultimate opiate of the masses? Would Karl Marx really do that?
While I’m nitpicking, the vegetarian in me was a little bothered by the fact that the beavers were unionizing in order to more equitably trap and skin other beavers and turn them into hats. It’s like that weirdly cannibalistic Famous Dave’s logo where the pig is barbecuing ribs. The beavers say it’s only the dumb ones that get caught in traps, but using the fur-trapping industry as a woodland eugenics program is still a little messed up.
All political issues aside, Beaverdance is a pretty great show. First of all, it’s a wonderful excuse to have a meal down at Bedlam Lowertown, where – for a very reasonable extra ticket price – they will serve you a very tasty four-course seasonal meal before the show. The menu is also friendly to vegetarians and those with other dietary restrictions, so don’t let that hold you back.
And since this is the kind of event you want to be able to drink a couple of beers with, the dinner-theater setting is perfect. Most of the jokes and songs are based around various combinations of “beaver”, “wood”, “wet”, “paddling”, and some pretty obvious beaver-related hand gestures, so leave the kids and the highbrow sense of humor at home. But the vulgarity isn’t offensive: those possessing (or otherwise enjoying) beavers can rest easy knowing that since the show is all about fighting exploitation, all the beaver puns - and there are many - are meant in the spirit of Marxist/feminist empowerment.
The show is a cabaret-style tale of Karl Marx bringing class consciousness to the beavers, and the audience is encouraged to get involved. Ryan Patrick and Chase Burns give us ample opportunity for booing at the villainous machinations of Robert Blaine and his more naïve sidekick Loring Park, but their campy performances, physical comedy, and skillful singing are also some of the highlights of the evening. For all of the sexual innuendo, Randy Reyes’s direction and Foxy Tann’s choreography play it a bit safe; there is nothing genuinely titillating or scandalous enough to make this feel like a true cabaret experience. But the beaver ensemble, along with Corrie Zoll and Dan Pinkerton’s book and lyrics, is cheeky enough to keep the laughs coming. And at the end of a tiring work week, that’s all I really need.
Beaverdance makes it seem really (unrealistically) easy to form a union, which makes it a good propaganda piece, if that’s what you’re looking for. But despite the presence of a time traveling political economist, the show balances its labor relations lessons with a healthy dose of playfully raunchy fun. The beavers learn how unfair it is that they are asked to work longer hours, on unsafe equipment, for an inferior product, but the Marxism is obviously in service of a greater agenda, which is to have a fun night out at the theater.
Marx probably wouldn’t approve of all the distractions from the show’s political message. But Beaverdance creates its own sort of communal spirit as we cheer for the little guy and boo for corporate greed. Spending the evening giggling at Bedlam, and finally coming together for the unity of furry creatures – that’s a holiday feeling I can get behind.