Warning, spoilers ahead.
Christmas—a time for drinking hot chocolate, hanging lights, giving gifts, and making snow angels—has long been celebrated by many American households. People celebrate Christmas not only for its religious context, but also as a cultural holiday. Growing up, children are taught that Christmas is about giving to others because only the good boys and girls—those who spread kindness—will be visited by Santa Claus every year. But, they aren’t taught who Santa Claus really is.
Seattle Public Theater’s Christmastown: A Holiday Noir is a comical play showing November 27 to December 28 that exposes Santa’s true identity. Written by Wayne Rawley and directed by Kelly Kitchens, the production combines light-hearted humor, Christmas spirit, and a suspenseful mystery to create one wonderfully acted play that tells the tale of the corporation behind Santa Claus.
Christmastown is a refreshing new spin on your typical Christmas story: in fact, this story involves a main character that isn’t totally in love with the cheerful holiday. The play starts with Detective Nick Holiday, portrayed by John Ulman, who is initially hired by Holly Wonderland, played by Pilar O’Connell, to investigate some suspicious photos of her mother and Santa Claus. The audience follows Nick as he slowly starts to uncover an even bigger mystery than he initially intended. Along the way, Nick interacts with the unique citizens of Christmastown from Rudy (Elicia Wickstead), his comedic sidekick and taxi-driver, to Mrs. Claus (Brandon Felker).
The story of Christmastown evoked a roller-coaster of emotions as I witnessed Nick’s dislike of Christmas in a town filled with deluded residents that cling to the illusion of Santa Claus. I was filled with laughter watching Nick get beat up by Mrs. Claus’ gang of subarctic caribou. Christmastown ends with Nick confronting E.B. Wonderland (Brandon Felker), the owner of Wonderland Corporations and business partner of Santa, who confirms that Santa, in fact, doesn’t exist: he is rather a make-believe character maintained by Wonderland to entice citizens to purchase products from the Wonderland company. Christmas is ultimately driven by his chase after profits. Through light-hearted humor and satire, Christmastown interrogates the existence of Santa while critiquing our capitalist society. Wonderland, like many members of society, becomes so motivated by materialistic goals that he forgets the reason he created Santa Claus in the first place: to celebrate giving and to bring joy to the children of Christmastown.
The subtle sound effects in the background not only brought depth and dynamics to the play’s storyline but also pay homage to classic Christmas hits. Additionally, Holiday’s narration provides insight into his thought process while effortlessly transitioning through scenes. The cast consisted of four extremely talented actors who played many characters, each with a unique spin and accent—from former love interests to a couple of tickle-fighting elves. Lastly, the small intricate details, like the shadows that resemble bars during the prison scene, demonstrated the amount of thought and effort put into the production. I could certainly tell that the play was rehearsed to perfection under the artistic direction of Kitchens.
To me, Christmastown is more than just a comedic holiday thriller: it’s a counter-narrative to the dominant cliche stories of Christmas and one that subtly critiques Western capitalism. Instead of a jolly ending with the town folk celebrating, Christmastown ends with the fall of Wonderland and the rise of another Santa. Watching this play filled me with a sense of nostalgia and warmth while simultaneously sparking a moment of self-reflection about this long-beloved holiday. The play was the perfect start to my December.
One thing I can say with certainty is that Christmastown is well worth watching, whether it be for a bit of laughter on a gloomy day or a deep dive into the play’s criticism of America. This play won’t fail to bring a smile to your face.
Christmastown runs November 29 - December 24, 2019 at Seattle Public Theater. See here for event information.