Foster has fun with Santa
 
Everyone involved is having a ball in up-to-date story about the true meaning of Christmas
 
Kitchener-Waterloo Record
 
Tuesday December 10, 2002
 
ROBERT REID RECORD STAFF
 
REVIEW -- It was only a matter of time before Canada's most prolific playwright turned his creative gaze northward. Yes, to the North Pole. Dear Santa, which is making its world premiere at Theatre Orangeville, is the latest comedy from the busy pen of Norm Foster. Call it Santa Claus for the new millennium. Christmas Eve is approaching and Santa's pragmatic chief-of-staff thinks it's high time for a new sleigh after 500 years. Arrangements have been made for a salesman to venture up from Detroit with the latest model in tow. As well, the last order of supplies has just arrived via the North Pole Special. However, there are two problems. There is no wood glue included with the supplies and the train had been hauling an uninvited stowaway, a teenager armed with a letter from her little brother containing an unusual Christmas wish. To complicate matters, things are not altogether happy at the North Pole. Santa's loose-lipped housekeeper has a big crush on the chief-of-staff and he's oblivious to the adoration. As is usually the case with such productions, everybody associated with it is having a ball. And this sense of unreserved fun is passed along to the audience.
 
Theatre Orangeville artistic director David Nairn directs with a broad brush and a generous hand. This is one time when more is never too much. Stratford veteran John Dolan does the seemingly impossible by giving us a Santa without stereotype. His Santa is freshly his own. What Dolan lacks in belly -- it's not exactly a bowlful of jelly even with the padding -- he makes up for with his very own beard and hair. No wigs for this Santa. Douglas Chamberlain, another Stratford veteran, just about steals the show as the unflappable sleigh salesman Lou Flapdoodle. Chamberlain's irrepressible comedic energy kicks the show up a notch when he's on stage. The story revolves around chief-of-staff Algernon Gladstone, played with transparent vulnerability by Avery Saltzman. His physical gestures often resemble those of a young Steve Martin and never fail to amuse. Lezlie Wade portrays Santa's housekeeper Octavia with a pixieish charm, which is given added dimension by a shading of forlorn tenderness. The adult cast is rounded out by Stephen Guy-McGrath as Bozidar, Santa's wacky elf foreman.
   
 
Avery Saltzman, John Dolan & Siobhan O'Brien in Theatre Orangeville's production of Dear Santa.  
   
Dear Santa is animated by a series of running verbal gags. One of the funniest is Bozidar's constant butchering of the English language by turning aphorisms and clichés inside-out. Guy-McGrath never misses a beat as he tosses off such hilarious tongue-twisters as, "that is a sight for four eyes" or "You could knock me over with a pheasant." The professional cast is augmented by Siobhan O'Brien as Kit Bishop, the hardened teenager who recovers the spirit of Christmas, in addition to seven young, singing elves. As was the case with last year's holiday offering of A Gift to Last, the production incorporates the T.O.Y.S. children's choir. Stephen Degenstein's carousel-like set features candy canes, toys and large wrapped boxes bearing undisclosed gifts. Dear Santa is entertaining fun for the whole family. But aimed as it is at younger family members, it's a tad too long. Whereas, the 70-minute first act drags on, the 50-minute second act is about right. Similarly, the production would benefit from a faster pace. The scene changes become needlessly repetitive for being drawn out. Still, there is always room for a new story reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas.
 
Who: Dear Santa Where: Theatre Orangeville Day: Through Dec. 22 Time: 8 p.m. (also 2 p.m. Sundays) Cost: $25, ($15 students) Phone: 1-800-424-1295