Who Killed Santa? Again
Indie Theatre Comedy Returns This Year in a New Venue
Now in its second year, Neil Haven‚Äôs holiday comedy Who Killed Santa? is being staged in separate productions in Milwaukee and Denver, Colorado. The appeal of the play is difficult to define. On the surface, the premise sounds kind of disinteresting‚ÄĒSanta Claus is murdered at a Holiday party attended by Christmas characters including Rudolph, Frosty, Tiny Tim and the Little Drummer Boy. Darker versions of the characters play for laughs in a decidedly adult take on the icons we all remember from childhood. Okay, it gets points for being a comedy of corrupted children‚Äôs characters, but it‚Äôs not terribly interesting or sophisticated. At least‚ÄĒnot on the surface. The clever thing about Haven‚Äôs script is not the cheap jokes or base sense of humor. The real comedy here isn‚Äôt terribly obvious. It‚Äôs all very inexplicably entertaining seeing these characters in this context and somewhere near the end of the play, you realize that you‚Äôve watched a triple homicide at a holiday party with Rudolph, Tiny Tim and Frosty and the vague sense of the bizarre becomes quite clear. It‚Äôs fun and it may be something of a guilty pleasure, but there‚Äôs a genuine heart to it all that goes way beyond the rather crude surface level of the comedy.
And then there are the puppets‚ÄĒevidently, when Neil Haven originally came-up with the idea for the show, he wasn‚Äôt thinking about puppets. (The Denver production is puppet-free.) And having seen the show with puppets twice, it‚Äôs difficult to imagine how the show would run without them. So much of the appeal of the show is seeing hipster, head and torso puppets in an adult setting. Designed by Dan Katula, what the puppets lack in sophistocation they more than make-up for in sheer cuteness. Taking over for Katula as the show‚Äôs director, Laurie Birmingham seems to have worked with the actors in a way that has maximized the puppets‚Äô expressiveness. The characterization seems to have improved all around from last year. Much of this probably has something to do with an increased familiarity with the puppets from many returning cast members. Sophia Petropoulos is manages a huge range of emotion with a very intimate and subtle understanding of the basic mechanics of the Rankin and Bass-inspired Rudolph puppet. Nate Press‚Äô loveably dimwitted Frosty is every bit as appealing as it was last year. Amy Geyser plays a very sympathetic Tiny Tim. Geyser has a really good sense of the humanity of a character doomed to be eternally crippled and young, but with the passions of an adult man. The sole human in the mix, Bo Johnson is at his best as Mrs. Claus at the end of the play. Joining the cast are Rick Pendzich as Steve‚ÄĒthe little drummer boy all grown-up and Liz Shipe as Chastity‚ÄĒthe little drummer girl. In charge of a sexy, Avenue Q-esque puppet, Shipe is fun in a coule of the show‚Äôs musical segments. Pendzich is a natural as a puppeteer. He‚Äôs found an impressive range of expressiveness in a puppet with a single facial expression. His presence here lends a huge amount of charm to the show. Pendzich has played the nice guy in a variety of different productions. It‚Äôs nice to see him playing someone a bit less idealized here ‚Äďeven if he‚Äôs doing it through a puppet. There‚Äôs nothing intrinsically negative about the character per se‚ÄĒbut for some reason the character is pegged as the killer quite often at the end of the play.
The audience gets to decide the answer of the title question with a trio of audience volunteers playing elves. Haven‚Äôs done some work on the script in an effort to ‚Äúspread the guilt,‚ÄĚ between the characters in the cast. More often than not, it‚Äôs the Drummer Boy who gets chosen. Whether or not the re-writes work will remain to be seen. Opening night‚Äôs elected killer was the Little Drummer Boy again . .¬† .
Neil Haven‚Äôs Who Killed Santa? Runs through December 27th at the Bay View Brew Haus.
For tickets, contact Bo Johnson at 414-839-7801¬† or via email at email@example.com