BWW Reviews: Two Very Different Holiday Treats With BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT and SANTALAND at SPT
Not to let Christmas go by unscathed, Seattle Public Theater has cooked up two somewhat off kilter Christmas shows this year. Each containing something for theater goers of all ages, they may not be your typical holiday fare but they are a breath of fresh air from the norm and both left this jaded audience member thrilled to have a little something extra slipped into his eggnog.
THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER
So you know those somewhat painful Christmas Pageants you have to sit through each year? Those ones with little Timmy playing the third camel from the left or maybe little Susie playing Mary as they attempt to stiffly tell the story of the nativity without all the younger kids bursting into tears. Ever wondered what would happen if someone told the story from a non-religious perspective? Well that’s what you get with Barbara Robinson’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”.
It’s just another year for this suburban church as they attempt to put on the Christmas Pageant. But this year the usual uber-controlling director is out of commission and Grace (Caitlin Frances) has stepped in to help out. But she has her work cut out for her as her son Charlie (Gabe Airth) has convinced the meanest, most unruly family in town, the Herdmans, that there are free treats to be had at Sunday school. And so Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys (Spencer Bradley, Sofia Truzzi, Charlie Tadlock, Riley Smith, Oscar Loveless and Aliza Cosgrove) find themselves in the church and fascinated by this story of pregnancy, kings and magical beings (as they see it) that they’ve never heard before. Too afraid to stand up to them, none of the other kids challenge them for the lead roles and so the nativity is now to be told (assuming they can get through it) by the town bullies.
The Herdman kids are wonderful each with their own very distinct characters and their transformations from the wild to the thoughtful is lovely. I especially have to note Truzzi’s beautiful moment as Mary with the baby at the end. Frances is great as the woman who has lost control of this would be simple task and Brandon Felker as her wise cracking husband adds just the right amount of snark to the piece.
The show tended a little on the preachy side for my taste but if you’re looking for something for the whole family and don’t want to break the bank getting tickets for something at the 5th Avenue, this is a perfect alternative.
On the complete other end of the spectrum, and let me make it very clear this is NOT the one to take the kids to, we have David Sedaris’ memoirs of his time as a jolly elf in Macy’s Santaland. But David Or Crumpet (as he becomes known) finds that this version of the North Pole is not all tinsel and candy canes as he uncovers the seedy underbelly of people just trying to earn a buck and hopefully not scar some little children for life.
Patrick Lennon is hysterical as the lone actor/elf in the piece as he weaves his way through the sweet and scary, wonderful and wicked, delightful and devilish and always hilarious moments of working in pointy shoes and tights for the holidays. The stories range from celebrity sightings to over and under zealous co-workers to unruly parents and Lennon handles each of them with just the right amount of care mixed with disdain. He takes us from his fateful day seeing the job listing through the chaotic last shopping day and manages to sprinkle in a little sweet holiday joy amidst the gut busting viciousness.
But like I said, this one is not for the kids. So if you need a brief respite from your holiday woes, go visit Crumpet as he shares his with you. Just don’t piss him off.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “Santaland Diaries” both perform through December 24th at Seattle Public Theater. For tickets or information contact the SPT box office at 206-524-1300 or visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.
Photo credit: Paul Bestock