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Slava's Snowshow

The Truth About Santa

Greg Kotis' alternative holiday show only manages to be fitfully funny, but brims with homespun charm.

By New York City
Lusia Strus and Bill Coelius in The Truth About Santa
(© Colin D. Young)
Lusia Strus and Bill Coelius in The Truth About Santa
(© Colin D. Young)
The Truth About Santa, now at the Kraine Theatre, is what you might call an alternative holiday show. That's not to say it skimps on the seasonal cheer, but its yule tidings are of a decidedly dark and deranged variety. Fortunately, director John Clancy ensures it's all amiable enough to coast along pleasantly for chunks of its 60-minute running time.

Picture It's A Wonderful Life's George Bailey (playwright Greg Kotis, a Tony Award winner for Urinetown) -- all drunk and disheveled -- returning home on Christmas Eve to find that Mary (Ayun Halliday) has been doing more than just kissing Santa (Bill Coelius) under the mistletoe. Over the years, Santa fathered both of the children George thought were his -- and now his family heads off to the North Pole with St. Nick. Meanwhile, Mrs. Claus (Lusia Strus) launches into full-blown Medea-mode. Not only do murder and mayhem follow, but the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Thanks also to two troubadour elves (the twinkling Clay Adams and Jeff Gurner) demystifying Christmas and exposing the evolution of the figure we know as Santa, Kotis bathes the evening in a cynical light. It's easy to see how this fits with the wide swaths of violence; it's harder to figure the silly veneer and the obligatory happy ending.

But if The Truth About Santa doesn't make sense -- and only manages to be fitfully funny -- it brims with homespun charm. Kotis has lured his wife and children into playing his wife and children. Only Kotis' wife can really act, but their daughter, India, is a precocious ham, and their moptopped son, Milo, is adorable in his inaudibility. Even the family pet -- a delightfully plump bulldog -- is drafted into action. Two-dimensional props and frequent miscues add to the sense that we're watching a local pageant play.

In the end, it's all a bit like eggnog -- sweet, spiced, and sloshing around awkwardly. But in the right dose, it gives you a soothing holiday buzz.


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