Christmastown: A Holiday Noir
Seattle Public Theater staged the World Premiere of its commissioned play, Christmastown: A Holiday Noir, written by Wayne Rawley, and directed by Gregory-Award winner Kelly Kitchens, which promises an adult holiday grin over the contested values of Holiday Season, in a mock Film Noir with comic book accents.
Film Noir is the low key, black and white mystery movie genre, set in the Depression or 1940’s urban crime setting, with stock shady characters like a private-eye, a femme fatale and of course gangsters. In this seasonal take on the genre Noir, the central character, private-eye named Holiday, follows the affairs of Santa Claus, to see if he will arrive in the Wonderland, and ease the tension of Christmas Eve thereby relieving ” believer’s agony” over endless holiday spending.
Santa’s family story and business affairs get revealed as the cynical private -eye, Nick Holiday, (John Ulman), stereotypically has all the misadventures of his profession: he gets beaten by a team of ganster reindeer, seduced by a sexy elf,-the femme fatale, Holly Wonderland, (Amber Wolfe). In addition, he has to counter the bitter acts of his ex-girlfriend, and the ambitious reporter, Virginia Ribbons (Rhonda J. Soikowski) but gets helped out by a young woman cab driver and a dark, limping vagabond from the back streets. He manages to reveal the dark business truth behind Santa, E.B. Wonderland (Branden Falker), while surviving all the genre-specifc evils , to help revive the true spirit of Christmas in a “noirish” fashion.
The acting is highly stylized and upbeat. All actors other than John Ulman, the private-eye, play multiple roles, excelling at delineating the variety of characters, designed to complicate the plot. The actors superbly illustrated their comic Noir characters by momentarily freezing for close-ups, while delivering comic book balloon exclamations.
John Ulman, while playing the central character, narrates the internal monologue captions in this comic adventure. His cynical, fallen- grace is perfectly expressed via his atonal speech rhythm and stiff movements. The sexy elf, Holly, played by Amber Wolfe, is the mysterious, scheming and seductive femme fatale. Rhonda J. Soikowski acts as the ambitious reporter, as the enthusiastic, young cab driver smitten enough to follow the private-eye around the gloomy town and as a ruthless, psychopath cop. Branden Falker is the E.B. Wonderland gone corrupt, as well as the backstreet vagabond, and a used tree dealer. As Santa’s housekeeper Falker just gives you the chills. Since the characters are highly stylized, stock personas, no natural acting is required, hence the actors’ quick and handsome shifts from one character to another, which worked well for the production.
Design elements collaborate well to make the scarcely furnished set become the comic book page or the Noir movie close-up, where mystery and action carry the audience from one scene to the next. Likewise, Jay Weinland’s and Robertson Witmar’s sound design gives us all the sounds in the captions: the beatings, face slapping, car chasing, etc. Caleb Rupert’s lighting design brings the dark and grim face of mystery to the stage. The dim yellow lights projected on characters from below, worked especially well to highlight the black and white features of the Noir genre
Samantha Armitage’s costume design and Krissy Grant’s props accentuated the 1940’s urban crime setting. Motion and flow on stage was very well managed; even set changes were amusingly choreographed ! Kyna Shilling’s set design and the actors’ blocking make optimum use of the thrust stage. Action, sound and lighting are well synced by thestage manager, Ariel Bui.
Watching Christmastown is like curling up with your favorite comic books, while finding your favorite characters in a new mystery. Here you have them, tragicomically wooing one of the major growing pains: the real fate of Santa! That’s a Holiday treat, indeed.
Christmastown: A Holiday Noir produced by Seattle Public Theatre, directed by Kelly Kitchens at the Bathhouse Theatre on Greenlake, premiering December 5 -24 2014. Remaining shows on Friday Dec 12th to Sunday Dec 14th; Friday Dec 19th through Wednesday Dec 24th, all at 7.30 pm. For tickets call the SPT Box Office at 206-524-1300 or visit www.seattlepublictheater.org. Run time: 70 minutes with no intermission. Seattle Public Theater is located on Green Lake, 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N Seattle, WA 98103. Theatre has a parking lot.