The campy adventures of outlaws Robby Jean "Money" Marshall and Jimmy Jake "Run" McAllister have become so associated with Berkeley's Impact Theatre that you'd never know that Wayne Rawley's Money & Run series was originally written for Seattle's Theater Schmeater, starting in 1999. The three rotating episodes Impact presented at the end of the 2003-04 season were such a hit that the company brought Money & Run back for a fourth episode to close the 2005-06 season, and now take us back to Cudrup County once more with A Very Special Money & Run Winter Season Holiday Special.
A pastiche of '80s action shows like The A-Team, BJ and the Bear and especially The Dukes of Hazzard, Money & Run follows the adventures of the titular law-crossed lovers as they run afoul of the nefarious schemes of liquor store magnate Big Momma Bob, often further complicated by Jimmy Jake's former friend Jimmy Jack Bodeen, now a bounty hunter out for revenge, and a variety of nuns, ninjas, gangsters, and mad scientists. Like the TV shows they send up, the episodes are self-contained and simple enough that you don't have to have seen any of the others to get what's going on, and each has a title sequence with the theme tune and cast credits.
First produced in Seattle in 2000 (technically before episode four but not included in the numbering of regular installments), the Christmas special is light on the nuns and ninjas but makes up for it with killer robot pediatric nurses and a pregnant virgin (technically, because heavy petting doesn't count) with nowhere to stay but a motel garage. Oh, and there's an angel, gangsters, and a whole lot of hookers and homeless people to boot.
Of course, since it isn't actually a television show and a year or two passes between installments, the characters keep coming back with new faces, and the nature of serial entertainment makes the switch almost as jarring as a new Darrin on Bewitched or a new pair of good old Duke boys. This time around the cast of fourteen is entirely new. Each season has had a different Run behind the eyepatch and tight jeans, but Alexandra Creighton (currently off at Marin Theatre Company in a show directed by Impact founder Josh Costello), brought a particular cheeseball charm to bandit beauty Money that can't help but be missed. I'm not sure whether Money and Run have substantially less stage time in this chapter or just less stage presence. Jessica Rhoades has a great gleaming prime-time smile as Money, but Alex Curtis' boyish good looks only take him so far as Run. The secondary level of camp is there in their performance, but not the primary sincerity. Some of it's as simple as not holding a gun like they mean it. They're almost as unbelievable as action heroes as they are as lovers.
There's more than enough going on to pick up the slack, however. Cynthia Brinkman and B. Warden Lawlor play it broad as a barn as Big Momma Bob and town drunk O.T. to fine effect, although Tavis Kammet has trouble keeping up as the cowboy narrator. Elissa Dunn is terrific as the spitting mad virgin mother-to-be Josephine, especially when beating the crap out of Seth Thygesen as her callow boyfriend Meryl, and Matt Gunnison brings a good mixture of feral menace and posturing cluelessness to Jimmy Jack. Jon Nagel is hilarious as a fanboy motel manager and the returning mad scientist Dr. Randall Ässwagon. Alan Bare's also quite funny as a variety of goons and loons, a bit less so in his main role as Joe Pesci-like gangster Frankie, who with moll Goldie (Sarah Thomas) and silent Merv (Steven Epperson) constitute the Three Wise Guys.
What makes the holiday special drag sometimes isn't so much the performances as slack pacing throughout. In his direction, sometime Impact actor Jeremy Forbing does well with the many fights (choreographed by Alaric Toy) and chase scenes, but other gags fall flat when they needn't. Money & Run is a sure crowd-pleaser, but it takes a wee bit more work than this to really let the magic happen.
Of course, just because it's been done better before doesn't mean that it's not pretty damn entertaining, even when you're just watching the guy in the sound booth rock out to the incidental music. When it comes down to it, it's more fun than your average holiday offering.
Mostly it's like a slightly singed cookie that just makes you want more of the better cookies that you know are in the same batch — because we know there's more where that came from. There are nine or eleven episodes of Rawley's series out there, depending on how you count the two-part specials. So Money and Run, y'all come back now, y'hear?