BWW Review: Christ and Santa Humanized in FOR CHRISTMAS at West of Lenin
I stepped into the West of Lenin Studio, glancing around the room to try and find a place to sit. Unfortunately, all of the cardboard boxes were taken, but I did snag an antique chair not unlike the one my mom brought up from our old basement anytime we had more than ten dinner guests. I was one of fifteen audience members, some of whom were seated on the floor, sipping wine out of opaque cups; others glancing around, trying to, like me, figure out how this production would unfold in such a tiny room. Two loud men outside the entryway whom I thought were being rude as they clunked about, doing something laborious and inconsiderate, where, in fact, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus, trying to get a couch up the stairs and into the room where I sat. I realized that the whole time, I was in Jesus Christ's studio apartment.
Written by Nick Edwards, "For Christmas" was originally a 10-minute play performed in SnowGlobed 2014 at theater schmeater. The captivating relationship between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ made the actor and director encourage Edward to expand the piece into a beautiful full-length play. Director Rachel Delmar orchestrated a beautifully cathartic dance between two iconic figures of purity and goodness.
From the moment Burris and Marston walked on stage, there was a very absurdist, "Waiting for Godot"-esque feeling to their relationship-the language was minimalist, punctuated, and filled with many pregnant pauses. How poignantly these two set the tone as these two powerhouse figures are trying their best to clumsily heave boxes and furniture up a flight of stairs into Christ's new studio apartment.
Humanizing Christ and Santa Claus is absolutely genius, and Nick Edwards' brilliant writing did it with a lot of subtlety and respect. How hysterical and simple: Santa Claus helps Jesus Christ move into his new apartment, and they cannot figure out how to get the couch up the stairs.
In "For Christmas," both Santa and Jesus struggle to find their place in the modern Christmas tapestry. Trying to take in all of the external input from friends and loved ones about who Christmas is rightfully for, Christ and Santa separately stew and struggle, only addressing trivial issues with one another. But you can cut that tension with a knife in every moment, for every moment is a miniature power-struggle, As the two men uncomfortably decide who should pay for the pizza, you forget these two men are not human.
The acting in this show was extraordinary. On one hand, you have Trevor Young Marston as Jesus Christ and Ben Burris as Santa Claus, two actors totally committed to their roles. On the other hand, you have Jocelyn Maher and Linnea Ingalls playing a myriad of characters such as Rudolph (Maher), Maggie (Ingalls), a spritely elf named Kris (Ingalls), Carol (Maher), Joseph (Maher), and Jesus' mother Mary (Ingalls).
Burris sleighed as the quietly despondent of Kris Kringle. His forced smile and best attempt to keep things positive instilled a real pity for has-been Santa, akin to the jarring realization that one's parents are, in fact, simply human. He gave depth to St. Nicholas in a way that I have never seen before. Marston equally-though more outwardly-forlorn Jesus was a delight to watch, for he gave the emotionally lost Christ a captivating darkness that gave tension to every moment. Although Maher did a good job in all of her roles, I thought Maher's best role was as the loving and strong Mrs. Clause. Similarly fantastic in her portrayal of vastly different characters, Ingalls' energy on stage was absolutely intoxicating, whether it be as the high-watt Kris the elf, the alluring and troubled Maggie, or the stern Mary.
My one issue with the performance was the fluidity of the mythical characters popping in and out of scenes confused me a bit. At moments, I was unclear as to which characters were actually in the room with Christ and Santa, or if Christ and Santa were having conversations with conjured images manifested from their existential turmoil. It seemed as though Santa did, in fact, return to some sort of homestead separate from Christ's studio, but those moments would bleed into the ones in Christ's apartment. If there was artistic intention to those choices, I was unclear on what the blurring of time and space meant here.
"For Christmas" was a dark, humbling delight in a tale of two perfect figures struggling to deal with the banality of the human condition while simultaneously handling godly burdens. What better way to hold these two in such high esteem than to make them imperfect.
I give "For Christmas" 4.5/5 stars.
"For Christmas" plays at West of Lenin through December 20th, 2015. For tickets and information, visit www.playinginprogresscom.