By James Elden, Lon Gowan, Chey Kennedy, Brandon Loeser, Shaun Loeser, and Richard Lee Warren; Directed by Shaun Loeser
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 12.23.15
St. Luke's Theatre, 308 West 46th Street
by Billy McEntee on 11.21.15
The cast of Santasia.
BOTTOM LINE: O come all ye sinners to this salty holiday treat.
Men in drag, ironic infomercials, and show tunes with four-letter words. Sound like Christmas?
Not exactly, but that's how Santasia would have it. This salty holiday treat is performing in its sixteenth year; its previous incarcerations impressed audiences in California before transferring to New York where it now plays at St. Luke's Theatre. Directed by Shaun Loeser (also a standout in the cast), the production moves at a clip, easily switching between pre-filmed sarcastic Christmas infomercials and holiday skits presented by six middle-aged men who may or may not be wearing holiday sweaters (or anything at all).
The scenes range from sit com-y exchanges at holiday meals to comically uncomfortable and erotic dances in elf garb. There is no through-line; Christmas is the garland stringing the show together, and for the most part it works. While many of the scenes are amusing there are also soliloquies performed by the six men sharing their favorite Yuletide memories. Most are not as poignant as perhaps intended, which tends to disrupt Santasia's otherwise smooth rhythm.
But the men are enjoying themselves up there, and it's hard not to smile along with their hokey jokes and paltry attempts at dancing and drag. A highlight is when Brandon Loeser appears as the virgin Mary on an episode of Jerry Springer where (s)he confronts Joseph about a baby to be born on the 25th. When Joseph asks how the pregnancy could be possible, Mary answers, “God only knows.” The situation is funnier than its dialogue or execution, but that’s okay. The actors are self-aware and the show never takes itself too seriously.
Another memorable scene reimagines the herald angel telling the wise men about Jesus’ birth. Brandon Loeser as the angel proclaims the miraculous conception like a sales pitch, which wise men Lon Gowan and James Elden have none of. Later, the wise men (joined by Shaun Loeser) compare gifts for the nativity only to realize that the least desirable present, myrrh, was re-gifted after one wise man gave it to another for his anniversary last year. (Later, an infomercial on re-gifting claims millions of presents are neglected each year while Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” plays lachrymosely in the background.)
Many of these commercials that mask scene and costume changes are as entertaining, as, if not more than, the live performances. They include claymation creations of a penguin’s flight attempts and children building snowmen over the San Andreas Fault—all kooky as they are adorable.
In his bio, lighting designer Wynn Zucchero is thankful for Santasia because it gives him the opportunity to “feel all warm and fuzzy inside” as one hopes to around the holidays. Then he adds, “Or is that the scotch?” Santasia perhaps asks the same question, and maybe we’ll know the answer in the show’s seventeenth year.
(Santasia plays at St. Luke's Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, until December 23, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays at 8PM and Wednesdays at 2PM. Tickets are $39.50-$59.50 and are available at santasia.com.)
Santasia is written byJames Elden, Lon Gowan, Chey Kennedy, Brandon Loeser, Shaun Loeser, and Richard Lee Warren. It is directed by Shaun Loeser. Set Design is by Shaun Loeser. Lighting Design is by Wynn Zucchero. The cast includes James Elden, Lon Gowan, Chey Kennedy, Brandon Loeser, Shaun Loeser, and Richard Lee Warren.