“A Christmas Carol” and “The Santaland Diaries” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ December 14, 2015


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Theater companies often fall into predictable patterns when staging holiday shows.  Leave it to Arizona Theatre Company to solve this annual predicament with artistic director David Ira Goldstein inspiration to present two cleverly staged and brilliantly performed rarely seen holiday shows.

“A Christmas Carol” tells the conventional tale of blustery Ebenezer Scrooge’s magical transformation but ATC finds a fascinating way to present it.  The familiar story is told by the fabulous Katie McFadzen, who portrays with virtuosity the story’s many diverse characters.  One minute she’s the grumpy Scrooge, the next moment she becomes Tiny Tim or one of the story’s female characters.

Watching McFadzen breeze through the tale is a delightful adventure as she crafts each character with unique consistency as she switches among the many personas over the show’s 75-minute duration.  She has limited theatrical accouterments – a table, a chair, a few different top coats, and hardly any props but McFadzen’s acting skill makes every character distinctive.  Matthew Wiener’s irreverent staging allows McFadzen to deliver a phenomenal performance.

If the conventional isn’t to your liking, ATC also mounts in repertory with “Carol” the wacky “Santaland Diaries,” in which Ron May plays with mocking abandonment an out-of-work guy who lands a job as an elf at Macy’s New York flagship department store Santa’s village.  Playwright David Sedaris’ clever script deals with the store’s trite rules that strive to make each child’s Santa visit the same.  Sedaris relates the tediously repetitious remarks that spew forth from every kid visiting Santa but he also hammers the parents hypocrisy and obsession with the visits.  Sedaris stresses how challenging it can become for a smart person to keep a dull-witted job fresh.  Sedaris also provides alarming insight on the wackos who play Santa.

May bounds about the stage in his outrageous costume explaining how repetitious each day becomes.  How, for example, does staff handle kids who won’t stop crying or who wet their pants while on Santa’s lap.  Sedaris even explores gay and womanizing Santas.  “The Santaland Diaries” is a fast paced 85 minutes of zany chatter that showcases May’s comic genius and that Goldstein stages the frenzied comic delight.

Designer Paul Black has transformed Center Stage at the Herberger Theater Center into a  holiday wonderland as you enter the festively decorated seating area on your way to the stage where you sit on a chandelier festooned stage looking into the theater where a huge Christmas tree created with lights serves as both productions backdrops.

“A Christmas Carol” and “The Santaland Diaries” both continue in repertory through December 26.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

“A Christmas Carol”

Grade: A

“The Santaland Diaries”

Grade: A