Poor Nick. He straps on a fake pot belly and beard, but he can’t get his ho-ho-ho rhythms right. His elf co-workers fight, and there’s no manual for dealing with unruly kids and parents that pass through the fake toy land at the mall.
Gleaned from interviews with real San Diego Mall Santas, Circle Circle dot dot’s Bearded, that opened last night at the 10th Avenue Theatre, takes you behind the fake chimney for one day. Hilarious and heartwarming with a shot of zany, Bearded is a welcome pick-me-up in the world of holiday programming.
Written by Katie Harroff and directed by Patrick Kelly, the play follows Nick, played by Michael Nieto, on his first day at the Westwield Morton Plaza Shopping Centre. A cast of six actors plays the holiday horde, warts and all, who just gotta see Santa.
Nieto’s Santa is younger and thinner than most, but his heart is in it. He arrives early, hoping to get some training. Instead, his angry elf manager (Soroya Rowley) gives him the stink eye.
“I have the worst ‘F-ing’ hangover of my life, and my elf name is ‘Flowers,’” she snarls.
That’s about as close to cussing as the play gets, although Flowers hates the other elf, flirty Jessica (Laura Kaplan-Nieto), and screws up her elf name whenever she can to get a rise out her, and she hides Jessica’s curled elf shoes. Nick mediates in Santa HR form and learns how to engage unpredictable children and parents on the fly.
Shaun Tuazon’s simple and effective set rotates to switch action from a sterile break room to a cheesy North Pole. While Santa Nick sits on his rear, his feuding elves lead the endless line of children to his red velvet lap, their overbearing folks in tow with lots of shopping bags and attitude.
Doe-eyed children ask Santa for sweet and selfish, bizarre and impossible things. Parents just want a damn photo. Belly laughs come when adults take on child-like mannerisms, familiar and inappropriate. The big kids grimace and wiggle and seem real, in a dorky way, because of costumes by Kristin McReddie that play with pop culture and scale.
While Bearded is a rousing comedy, there is an undercurrent of hope and concern for innocent children. Taylor Wycoff wins hearts as the desperate child who arrives without a parent. A section that depicts parents laughing hysterically at their frightened sobbing child speaks to the sickening trend of “Scared of Santa” photo contests.
The cast changes costumes and wigs every few seconds. A whirling section has the action and sound score speed up even faster, like an old film in fast-forward, to indicate Santa’s long, grueling day. On opening night, the first and last few minutes dragged just a tad, but that will be remedied throughout the run of this rewarding new show.
Cory Hammond is painfully funny as Lilly, the anxious tike who is terrified of Santa. She grips the crotch of her onsie PJs in a slow circle, as only little kids know how to do. Keith Hammond is the bravest coward, willing to cuddle with Kriss Kringle while wearing an adult sized Super Man unitard. Michael Parrott shines as a heavy metal punk, an oddball who brings a straightjacket, and a few mothers. He really hams it up in the lip-puckering Valley Girl trio – just you wait – and he can sing.
Bearded runs Dec. 7 – Dec. 21, 2013 at the 10th Ave Theatre, 930 10th Avenue, downtown. www.circle2dot2.com.