Imagine a world where elves are security thugs, Mrs. Claus is a fake old schemer, and detectives and crime bosses suck on candy canes instead of cigars. In a tribute to two familiar genres we’ve all seen before, Seattle Public Theater’s production of Christmastown, written by Wayne Rawley and directed by Rachel Delmar takes classic Christmas characters like elves, reindeer, and jolly Santas and tosses them into a cauldron with film noir tropes, resulting in a hilarious Christmas romp that also examines dark themes with some dismal twists.
The story centers around Nick Holiday, a hard-boiled detective, who narrates the story to the audience as he works through his comedic thoughts aloud. After a mysterious lady elf shows Nick pictures of Santa’s questionable activity, he is thrown into a spiral of fights, escapes, chases, and interrogations with crazy police, reckless and brilliant cab drivers, and shady families that control the holiday. As Nick runs around the City of Christmastown, trying to uncover the truth about Santa, he begins to realize along the way that there are hidden secrets surrounding Big Red that many citizens don’t want to hear. The city's fate hangs in the balance as Nick faces past issues, confronts new ones, and digs deeper into the dark plot that surrounds Santa.
Compared to other Christmas productions, Christmastown is small in scale, but effective nonetheless. Each of the show’s four-member cast plays multiple roles with talent, and their constant character-switching brings added energy to the performance. Jasmine Joshua is particularly impressive in their ability to play a wide range of characters—from a parody of Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol, to a greedy businessman, to the gently menacing Mrs. Claus. Michael Wu, who plays Nick Holiday, also gives an excellent performance, nailing the classic detective stereotype as he delivers fast monologues full of witty Christmas references that got the crowd laughing.
In addition to a small cast for the show, the set is simple. Chairs, desks, drapes, and lights are used for scenes like the detective's office and the police interrogation room, while a painted noir city nightscape stands in the background. Occasional Christmas trees, twisted holiday costumes like elves in black and white stripes, and falling snow help establish the Christmas mood. Though minimal, the sets accurately portray dim and busy city streets that still maintain the energy and excitement of Christmas.
Christmastown is a comedy, but one that also gives insight into the many dark sides of the holiday. The inhabitants of Christmastown begin to question Santa's existence as they realize they all share the same sad childhood memories of Christmases without visits from him. Their need for Santa’s existence drives them to buy endless things they don’t need in an attempt to immerse themselves in the holiday season, which only pushes them further into depression and despair. In spite of these dark themes, humor is still found throughout the play. Christmastown is a success because it is easy to imagine yourself in that city and feel that depleting hope, but also funny to laugh at the faces of distraught adults questioning Santa's existence. The show never has a dull moment, whether it has you questioning your life or laughing your face off, it keeps you entertained.
Sitting in my chair, sore from forgetting how to sit in a seat for so long and my mask strings burning holes behind my ears, my first in-person show after two years was worth every second. Smart and well-balanced, Christmastown is an intriguing mix of two contrasting genres that raises deeper questions about the consumerist nature of Christmas without giving up the joy at the heart of the holiday. The actors were engaging and talented, and the crowd was joyful and excited. If you’re tired of repetitive Christmas entertainment, or you’re just looking to spice up your holiday season, Christmastown is a refreshing and hilarious alternative.
Christmastown is playing at Seattle Public Theater through Friday, December 24, 2021. For more information see here.