Kitchener Waterloo Record.........................ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT.....................Monday, November 24, 2003
Waterloo stages Yule treat
Shannon Elizabeth Hughes, Ted Follows and Janet Monid in a scene from Norm Foster's Dear Santa at the Waterloo Stage Theatre.  

review by HARRY CURRIE

WATERLOO (Nov 24, 2003)


Turn Canadian humorist playwright Norm Foster loose on Santa Claus, his North Pole workshop, the elves and sundry other Foster characters and you've got a sure-fire winner. That's exactly what you'll find at the Waterloo Stage Theatre with Foster's play Dear Santa, which is playing through the Christmas season.

Well, with lovable old Santa being played by lovable not-so-old Ted Follows, how could you miss? Padded up to get Santa's girth, Follows has just the right amount of impish glee coupled with the saintliness of Saint Nick to make the character well rounded -- in more ways than one, of course.

In many ways Santa is the toughest role in the play, for he's actually the straight man to the shenanigans of his motley crew and a couple of visitors he hasn't counted on. But Follows, with his years of stagecraft, knows all the tricks of making a character so believable that you can't imagine the role being played by anyone else. Santa is aided and abetted, and sometimes thwarted, by Algernon, his chief of staff, Octavia, his housekeeper, and Bozidar, the workshop foreman.

Terry Barna's Algernon is pompous, self-important, officious to a fault, organized and smug -- in other words he's a pain in the exhaust pipe. Nothing gets by Algernon, and Santa's easy-going nature doesn't mesh well with Algernon's rigid character, but he appreciates that Algernon is indispensable. Barna shows a very different persona here than we've seen from him before, and it only goes to prove what a fine, versatile actor he is.

The only thing that seems to slip by Algernon is the fact that Octavia, the housekeeper, has a crush on him. Superbly played by Janet Monid, Octavia is a bit ditzy and forgetful, sometimes doesn't remember who, what or where she is, but has a gentle way and smile that makes Octavia so endearing that she almost steals the show.

I say almost, for with this strong cast no one could totally steal the show, especially when you've got Randolph J. Johnston being true to form as Bozidar -- larger and louder than life. Johnston brings his joie de vivre to every role he plays, and this is so infectious that the audience cracks up even at his Kramer-like entries and exits. Bozidar has a Polish/Russian/Hungarian hybrid accent, and he butchers the English language every time he opens his mouth: "We have a big problem in the workshop -- it's an apostrophe!" or "It's a sight for four eyes!"

Enter an unexpected guest, Kit Bishop, a stowaway on the supply train. Well played by Shannon Elizabeth Hughes, Kit is an unhappy, rather morose young lady who brings Santa a letter from her young brother Michael. Fulfilling that wish presents Santa with a big problem, and he'd like to find a way of bringing some joy into Kit's life, too. When Kit tries to get home by "borrowing" Santa's sleigh, she crashes it through the barn door.

This is just what another visitor wanted. Lou Flapdoodle, a sleigh salesman from Detroit, has been trying to get Santa to upgrade to a rocket-propelled sleigh, and now's his chance. Smarmily played by Matt Lancaster, Lou is the epitome of a smooth, fast-talking car and sleigh salesman, who pulls out all the stops, including pictures of his wife and kids, to make a sale. The test drive aftermath is hilarious. Little Michael and his mother, played by Tristan Rea and Gill Ireland respectively, arrive at the North Pole toward the end, so Santa has found a solution. Of course -- he's Santa Claus.

The pop-rock-loving elves are played by Rachel Barna (onstage with Dad for the first time), Cory Beetham, Britanie Cameron, Amy Ireland, Kara Lynn Playford and Connor Rea. Another imaginative Stephen Degenstein set and fine direction by Kathryn DeLory make Dear Santa a sure-fire hit for the whole family