North Bay audiences seeking a little lightweight, somewhat-holiday-themed entertainment would do well to head out to Sebastopol and check out Ham for the Holidays. Written by Santa Rosa High School dropout-turned-game-show-contestant-turned-college-professor Shad Willingham, it runs at Main Stage West through Dec. 30.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1939, and the tiny hamlet of Hamlin, GA is buried in snow from an unexpected southern blizzard. Local ham magnate and radio station WHAM owner Cab Hoxton (Dodds Delzell) is in a tizzy preparing for the arrival of the great Orson Welles, who for some unfathomable reason has agreed to do a live broadcast from the station.
Postman Sam Wainwright (Keene Hudson) delivers Welles’s script, but station flunky Timmy Wilkins (Zane Walters) manages to lose it. To add insult to injury, Welles is stuck in a snowbound train, so how in the world will the show go on?
Well, blustery radio actor and playwright Dexter Armstrong (Garet Waterhouse) has an ‘original’ play (Attack of the Space Robots from Outer Space) that with just a little tweaking can be turned into a Christmas show. As far as an actor with the stature of Welles, local Shakespearean-trained ham Dick McCann (John Craven) would be a suitable replacement as long as he doesn’t have a narcoleptic episode in the middle of the broadcast.
Add an actress who insists on costume changes for radio (Maureen O’Neill), the station owner’s bungling daughter (Dale Leonheart), and a malfunctioning studio heater and it’s no surprise when everything, of course, goes wrong.
Yes, it’s The (Radio) Play That Goes Wrong which means lots of slapstick silliness. There’s no great message to be found here; in fact, no message at all. The only thing being delivered are good-natured laughs via director Emily Cornelius’s hard-working cast.
They deliver those laughs on a well-detailed but somewhat anachronistically-appointed set by David Lear and in nice period costuming by Tracy Hinman. Keith Baker’s sound design also gives a big assist.
Ham for the Holidays is the type of show you don’t want to overthink. It’s very reminiscent of an extended sketch from one of television’s great variety shows of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. It exists solely to elicit laughs and perhaps fond memories for some of days of yore. It’s theatre for the MeTV crowd.
‘Ham for the Holidays’ runs through Dec. 30 at Main Stage West, 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thu-Sat at 8:00pm; Sun, 5pm. $20-$32. Masking required. 707.823.0177. mainstagewest.com
Photos by Lauren Heney
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.