Challenged to squeeze in a decent pre-theater bite between the end of your work day and curtain time? “Happy Hour” is just your ticket. A Celebrity Series of Boston presentation at District Hall, in the Seaport District, this hourlong show from Monica Bill Barnes & Company is no empty promise. Starting at 6 p.m., it serves up free beer (one to a customer) and soda plus chips and dips, mini-pretzels, cheese balls, even microwave popcorn. OK, that’s not exactly dinner, but you’ll be out by 7 p.m., with plenty of time to get a more substantial meal. Oh and there’s a poignant performance to go with it, from Barnes and Elisa Clark, replacing the previously announced Anna Bass, who had joined Barnes and NPR radio host Ira Glass when Celebrity Series brought “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host” to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre back in January 2015.
District Hall describes itself as a “not-for-profit civic innovation center,” the kind of space you might book for an office party — which is the setup for “Happy Hour.” The walls of the party room are festooned with blue balloons and blue crepe, an inflatable potted palm tree stands to one side, and there’s a working microwave on the table at the back.
Like many office parties, “Happy Hour” has a rolling start. By 5:45 Tuesday evening, the festivities were in full swing, with guests lining up for drinks and snacks at the bar while host Robert Saenz de Viteri, at a rolling podium, extolled the virtues of Stella Artois. (“I may have overpromoted it,” he admitted, when the bar ran out after 10 minutes and had to restock.) Saenz de Viteri complimented the front-row ladies on their drinks (martinis and cosmos that must have been purchased elsewhere in the Hall), asked who had a birthday (someone did), handed out leis and glowsticks, offered microwave pizza rolls, and got the guests, who were seated on two sides of the performing area, to sing along to “Sweet Caroline.”
Around 6:10 p.m., Barnes and Clark showed up, sporting suits, white shirts, ties, and homburgs, their hair slicked back, office bros looking for women. Over the next 50 minutes, they doubled as partygoers and performers. They hoofed to “Love Me Tender,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Smile,” “I’m All Out of Love,” even Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon” from the Dvorák opera. Jackets and ties came off and went back on. They puffed, they preened, they solicited applause for each other (Clark got everyone to chant “Mo-ni-ca”), they played rock-paper-scissors to determine who’d get to approach some lady they’d picked out.
Midway through, they drew a young woman from the audience onstage, seated her, kissed her hand. Clark was the successful suitor: offering his arm, “he” escorted her out the entrance. When they reappeared, five minutes later, Clark was smoking a cigarette and she had a really nice bouquet. Still, it didn’t take Clark and Barnes long to make up.
The dancing in “Happy Hour,” which debuted in 2015, is of a piece with what Barnes offered in “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” a medley of vaudeville, Broadway, tap, and modern, with the odd pom-pom roll and a hint of ballet in the port de bras. Most of it is done in unison, even though Barnes and Clark look like a pair of Gene Kellys making it up as they go along. As bros looking to hit on women at an office party, they’re relatively benign, in part because the macho posturing is so comic and pathetic and in part because what really seems to matter to them is each other. The birthday surprise that arrived at the end of Tuesday’s show just made “Happy Hour” that much sweeter.
Monica Bill Barnes & Company
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At District Hall, Tuesday (repeats through March 16). Tickets $35. 866-348-9738, www.celebrityseries.orgJeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.