Friday, December 23, 7:34 p.m.
The Mockingbird on Main, 320 North Main Street, Davenport IA
As a special year-end gift for the Quad Cities theatre community in general and fans in particular, the Haus of Ruckus duo of T Green and Calvin Vo will deliver one final 2022 evening with their comedic counterparts Johnny and Fungus in A Very Ruckus Holiday Special, which will be staged at Davenport's Mockingbird on Main on December 30 in tandem with a live-streaming option. And if you thought the team responsible for the nutty adventures “Pants” Labyrinth in the spring and Random Access Morons in the summer was done for the year after their November presentation Spooky Pete, you're not alone, because as Vo admits, “We also thought we were done for the year.”
Yet the idea for a live yuletide show, as Green recalls, actually originated in October. “We were watching The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, which is so wild, for Spooky Pete inspiration, and we already had this idea for doing a free fundraiser. And in watching it, we were like, 'Oh, these corny '70s holiday specials are so funny … . Wouldn't it be great to give Johnny and Fungus a holiday special?'
“I mean, Donny and Marie, and the Carpenters – everyone had a Christmas special,” adds Vo. “So we thought, 'Johnny and Fungus could use one of those.'”
Consequently, as Green says, A Very Ruckus Holiday Special “is going to be done in variety-hour-style, but through the lens of Johnny and Fungus, who are sort of narrating the show.”
“There are sketches and songs and wrap-around segments,” says Vo. “It's really harkening back to those fun, kitschy, quirky variety hours during the golden age of television, where it's the holidays – whether it's Halloween, Easter, July fourth, Christmas – and everyone's huddled around the TV to celebrate with the people on the TV. That's what we're trying to do. Getting the Quad City theatre community that knows us, or is at least aware of us, to huddle around with us and celebrate the year.”
As Haus of Ruckus admirers will expect and likely love, a number of familiar presences from the past year will return for the December 23 event, among them Sarah Goodall, Keenen Wilson, Jo E. Vasquez, Max Robnett, Emma Regnier, Bella Kuta, David Weaver, and – in what Vo calls “a cameo from everyone's favorite Fungus' Father” – Green's real-life dad Terry Green. The stage special will also feature a special short film from Iowa City-based director Chug Johnson, a number with drag king Jackson Blues, and, as the Facebook promotion states, “maybe even a couple puppets.”
What audiences won't be seeing, however, are routines they previously saw in 2022 – though several memorable characters beyond Johnny and Fungus themselves might indeed make a comeback.
“We're going to be writing some sketches and the people in it are going to be bringing out some of their original stuff,” says Vo, “and it's all going to be new. What we really wanted to do was highlight, in our celebration of the company and the year, that our ensemble has talents that you haven't seen yet – that they have different skills that you may not have seen in a performance. You may see the return of a couple familiar faces from shows, but there won't be any song-and-dance that you've already seen.”
As befits an imminent year-end special, Green and Vo were asked to recall some Haus of Ruckus highlights from 2022, and they graciously agreed.
On “Pants” Labyrinth, which found Johnny and Fungus entering the Netherworld in search of missing tuxedo slacks:
Vo: I'll say that of all our shows, in the writing and designing of it, “Pants” Labyrinth is maybe our biggest love letter to a lot of things that we really, really like. Things like '70s camp, adventure films, puppets – all that stuff. So a lot of it is done in homage to these things, and of all the shows that we've done, that was the one where we most celebrated the things that inspire us a lot.
Green: First of all, I think the wigs and puppets were awesome in that one. Shout out to style superstar Calvin Vo for that. But “Pants” was also the show that a lot of our returning players have come from. Like, a lot of people from that cast – Amelia Fischer, Keenen Wilson – are still coming back. So it was cool to get that turnout. And Mr. Numb Nuts was funny in it.
Vo: That was also our first two-act show. If we ever get the call from Jack Black or Mike Myers and they want to produce us, I think we'll have the funds for a two-act again.
Green: Or maybe it'll just be a one-act play that we split into two acts.
On Random Access Morons, where Johnny and Fungus were literally sucked into a martial-arts-style video-game and had to fight their way out:
Green: What I really enjoyed about Random Access Morons was that both of us are very big video-game fans, but I often find myself watching video games and being sort of disappointed. So getting to write a video-game play, for me, that has our sensibilities and the things we like in it, was really fun. I really enjoyed getting to tell this sci-fi story of standing up against authority, and going against your programming, but doing it in a very stupid, very Ruckus-y way.
Vo: What really sticks with me is that that's the show where we really expanded what we could do with background projections and sound – from beginning to end, there are blips and beeps and all sorts of things designed to create that noise of the game world. And then with the puppetry, I had never heard of a puppet that lights up when it talks. So I thought, “Let's give that a try.” Stretching in that area, and building puppets out of plexiglass or whatever to try to communicate game characters, was fun. When writing, we just write characters. We'll go, “Oh, we want a guy with a giant deer's head and three tiny stones that roll around and say weird things.” And then, as we sort of develop those characters – and it's happened for every show – we'll say, “What if he was a puppet?” The characters are always written first. And what's really nice about that is that when you go into the design, the puppets' shapes, lines, and colors are all drawn from that thing we wrote before we knew it was going to be a puppet.
On Spooky Pete, the rare non-Johnny-and-Fungus comedy in which a group of stranded youths enter an odd mansion filled with kooky characters:
Green: Two things I really enjoyed. One is that it is our largest cast to date. A lot of people from all of our previous Ruckus projects came together, and we had some new people, and it felt very much like an end-of-season show. A lot of people were there and willing to lend their energy. But we are also not shy about our queerness and our desire to champion queer people, so it was nice to sort of embrace that side of the world and use Spooky Pete to tell, explicitly, LGBTQ stories. To tell a gay love story, for instance, through a Ruckus lens, but still through a very honest place that you might not always get to see in theatre.
Vo: The Johnny-and-Fungus plays are really fun; they're wild, and we experiment and try crazy things and meet different characters. But in Spooky Pete, with each member of that group that gets out of the car, we're following their stories and seeing where they were at the beginning of the show, where they end up, and how the mansion sort of affects that. And Haus of Ruckus has been doing comedy since the beginning. But something that was also interesting about Spooky Pete was that there were some moments that were heartwarming, and some touching moments, which I think are areas that people don't expect coming from us. I liked that it sort of told people, “You may be able to look forward to things that aren't just straight-up, flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants comedy.”
Speaking of things to look forward to, Green and Vo say that Haus of Ruckus' 2023 will be just as busy as 2022. Through a partnership with St. Ambrose University, the company will produce a springtime studio-theatre comedy titled Are We There Yeti?, which, Green says, “is a Johnny-and-Fungus story about them exploring the Rocky Mountains, and maybe hunting down, or seeking out, a familiar furry character from American folklore. It's the East Moline Owl Man. Just kidding.”
Having adapted and directed Aristophanes' The Frogs for Genesius Guild this past August, Green and Vo reveal that they will be back in Rock Island's Lincoln Park for an end-of-summer production of the Greek playwright's The Wasps before returning to the Mockingbird for, as Green says, “another Johnny-and-Fungus play called Funkyology. It's sort of an Indiana Jones/temple-exploration story that also deals with parodying the History Channel's ancient-aliens kind of stuff and heavily features the music of funk.”
And after that? “In November, we'll be doing a non-Johnny-and-Fungus stand-alone,” says Green. “And for now, we'll be keeping that one a secret. Either because we're actually keeping it a secret or we haven't nailed down what it's going to be, you'll have to guess.”
A Very Ruckus Holiday Special will be staged at Davenport's Mockingbird on Main at the Haus of Ruckus' usual start time of 7:34 p.m., and the free performance – with donations appreciated – will also be viewable via live-streaming. Reservations for the in-person show on December 30 are strongly advised, with tickets available by e-mailing HausOfRuckus@gmail.com, and more information can be found by visiting Haus of Ruckus on Facebook and Instagram.