Christmastown: A Holiday Noir Tradition?

Seattle Public Theater presents Christmastown: A Holiday Noir at the Bathhouse Theater for a Second Year

Bedraggled private eye Nick Holiday (John Ulman) stands watching the Christmas shopping rush when Holly Wonderland (Pilar O’Connell) the seductive daughter of the CEO of the E B Wonderland department store empire, enters his office with a possible job. She has photographs she needs check out, but very soon Holiday has a more urgent question—

Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

When eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon posed this question to the editors of The Sun in New York in 1897 her answer was a resounding “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus.” But The Sun didn’t follow the evidence. In Christmastown: Holiday Noir’s second seasonal run at Greenlake’s Bathhouse Theater, trench coated, fedora wearing Nick Holiday cynically and hilariously tracks down evidence that Santa is either: alive, dead, or — can we dare print it — not even real!?

Bahar Karlidag reviewed this last year for Drama in the Hood. Three of the four members of the cast have return as well as the great majority of the production team, including the multiple award winning director Kelly Kitchen.

When writer Wayne Rawley got the commission to write a fresh Christmas classic for Seattle Public Theater (SPT) in 2014 he let his imagination run. Rawley’s script parodies the film noir genre, a term coined by French cinema critics in 1946 to denote the dark and down beat look of many of the films produced by Hollywood after WW II. Stylistically, film noir has stark sets with deep shadows, actors who face the audience (or camera) when delivering their lines, and long takes with limited editing.

Rawley’s script also incorporates many traditions and clichés tagged “Christmas”: carols like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Deck the Halls,” classic stories like “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens, movies like “A Miracle on 34th Street,” poems like “Twas the Night before Christmas,” and that famous editorial. Nothing is quite as you remember it, or it’s riffed via a pun, inverted, or extended. Don’t bother to count how many of these there are because while you’re removing your socks to get to your toes you’ll definitely miss a joke or a pun or a sly reference.

In quick order, Holiday passes off the photos to his crippled street informer, Tiny Tim with the charge to discover if the Santa in the photos is real. A few scenes later Tim’s back with his results: no! Evidence: you don’t laugh when you see him. A reference to the lines

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself …

Let’s check off the many film noir conventions Rawley employs:

✔ down on his luck Private Eye Nick Holiday (played with cynical perfection by John Ulman)
✔ seductive, beautiful femme fatale Holly Wonderland (Pilar O’Connell, in one of several roles)
✔ ex-lover, former police department colleague now turned city reporter Virginia Ribbons (Rhonda J. Soilowski in one of several roles)
✔ street informer Tiny (Brandon Felker in one of several roles)
✔ trusted cabbie to shadow the client (Soilowski)
✔ conniving wealthy business owner E B Wonderland (Felker)
✔ hooligan reindeer Crusher (O’Connell) that roughs up private eye Holiday
✔ bouncers and guardian elves Jingle and Jangle (O’Connell & Soilowski)
✔ Police officers Naughty and Nice (Soilowski) that work over Holiday when he is in the slammer

Costuming by Samantha Armitage last year and continued with this production by Ali Rose Panzarella is terrific, even down to the trench-coat wearing stage hands. The sets by Kyna Grace Shilling are minimalist, just enough to evoke where we are. Some scenes, like the ones on the back alleys, have no furniture at all. Sound designer Jay Weinland give the show its film noir aural texture.

What a hodgepodge “fruit in cake” (a phrase from the play) script Rawley handed SPT. SPT for a second year has rehearsed it well, recruited an audience and performs this yummy treat in 75 delightful minutes.

Christmastown: A Holiday Noir, by Wayne Rawley, directed by Kelly Kitchen. A Seattle Public Theater production. Run time: 75 minutes with no intermission. Bathhouse Theatre on Greenlake. 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N. Theater has a parking lot. Tickets at seattlepublictheater.org. Thur – Sat at 7:30 PM December 4 – 20; Tues – Thur at 7:30 PM Dec 22 – Dec 24.

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