Category Archive for: ‘Harry Duke’

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The Santaland Diaries / Polar Bears (Santa Rosa / Sebastopol)

Two one-man, sort-of-holiday-themed shows take the stage in Sonoma County. One is seeing its eighth incarnation; the other is a world premiere. One is a semi-factual work of a nationally renowned humorist; the other is the latest autobiographical work of a local playwright. One is chock full of bitterness, bile and black humor, the other with love, loss and laughter. While they both capture certain aspects of the holiday season, one might say they’re polar opposites.

David Yen has been performing The Santaland Diaries throughout the North Bay for the last eight years and this year brings it back to Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse where he first began. Adapted by Joe Mantello from an essay by David Sedaris and directed by Argo Thompson, it’s the tale of a frustrated New York actor reduced to playing an elf in Macy’s Christmas Village – Santaland! Elf interviewing, elf training, preferred elf assignments, a cornucopia of Santa Clauses and, of course, the kiddies and their always-adorable parents are all fodder for Sedaris’s biting wit. Yen brings just the right amount of snarkiness to Crumpet (his elf name) and keeps him just this side of likeable as he relates the daily humiliations he’s forced to endure in the name of gainful employment.

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David Yen as Crumpet in “The Santaland Diaries”

Yen also brings his cocktail-making skills to Crumpet as he tells his tale while serving a variety of holiday–themed adult refreshments (available for pre-show purchase) to the audience. This interesting (and admittedly thirst quenching) device does, however, take what was an originally about an hour long one-act and elongates it to a two-plus hour show with intermission. The comedy comes to an occasional halt as Yen blends up a beverage and traipses through the audience to deliver his wares. While this gives Yen a chance to improv a bit with audience members, it prevents the crescendoing of Sedaris’s humor. Still, Yen earns plenty of laughs (but no tips) from the audience. I just wish those laughs had come at me a little quicker.

And while I think a tighter show would have worked better, can I really fault a show that introduced me to a tantalizing concoction known as a “Santa’s Little Helper”?

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Sebastopol’s Main Stage West is hosting the world premiere of David Templeton’s Polar Bears, which is described as “A Story of Fatherhood, Funerals and Santa Claus”. Directed by Sheri Lee Miller, Templeton’s elegy to the trials and tribulations of single parenthood is a beautifully written piece. While set at Christmastime and built around his desire to maintain his children’s belief in Santa Claus, Polar Bears speaks to the universal lengths parents will go to in their attempts to keep their children happy. Part love letter to his family, part confessional release, it’s told with good humor and a lot of heart.

Having realized at a very early age of the fictional nature of St. Nick, David was determined to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in his children as long as he could (perhaps even longer than he should, he ponders) in the hopes of averting the crushing disappointment he experienced. He devised a long set of rules to help him accomplish this – rules about Santa’s letters, about food, about gifts, about wrapping paper, etc. – that became increasingly difficult and complex as his marriage to their mother ended, his ex-wife succumbed to cancer and his children grew older.

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David Templeton in “Polar Bears”

Bathed in the glow of Christmas lights (design by Robin DeLucca) and surrounded by festive decorations of the season (design by Elizabeth Craven), Templeton’s tale is nowhere near as maudlin as its subtitle may indicate.  The emotions expressed and elicited are genuine.  It is a heartfelt expression of love – the love a son has for his father and the love a father has for his children – and how that love is often expressed in the most ridiculous and amusing of ways.

As with Santaland, pacing is an issue with Polar Bears. Templeton is a gifted storyteller and he has a lot to tell, but the show’s length works against it. Clocking in at slightly over two hours with an intermission, that intermission felt more like a necessity for Templeton the performer than as a requirement of the writing. The emotional impact of the tale and its poignancy are somewhat lessened by its length and the interruption of an intermission. Sometimes less is more. Polar Bears, as wonderful as it is in its present formwould be a tale better told in one sitting.

After years of reading his children’s letters to Santa Claus, David has returned the gesture by writing what amounts to a letter from their real Santa Claus to them, albeit in dramatic form. Rather than tuck it away in a shoebox, he’s willing to share it on stage. It’s a “letter” well worth reading.

 

The Santaland Diaries                                                   Polar Bears

through December 13                                                    through December 20

Thu/Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 7pm                                     Thu/Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 5pm

6th Street Playhouse                                                        Main Stage West
52 W 6th St                                                                      104 N. Main St
Santa Rosa, CA  95401                                                   Sebastopol, CA  95472

(707) 523-4185                                                                (707) 823-0177

www.6thstreetplayhouse.com                                       www.mainstagewest.com                

                                           Photos by Eric Chazankin