The Truth About Santa
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
December 6, 2008
This holiday season John Clancy and Greg Kotis are doing things their way, and the rest of us are just going to have to deal. Both men have an anti-establishment streak a mile long—their collective resumes include such works as Urinetown, Fatboy, Pig Farm, and Americana Absurdum—and a twisted sense of humor about as big. So, it should come as no surprise that their latest collaboration, The Truth About Santa, features a womanizing Santa, a bloodthirsty Mrs. Claus, kids with superpowers, and plenty of death. Also not surprising, though, is how funny it is. Kotis's new comedy is a silly and fun yuletide diversion that gets a charmingly loose and shaggy production under Clancy's high octane direction.
The Truth About Santa slaughters sacred cows right from the start by introducing a Santa who cheats on his wife, fathers illegitimate children, and smokes a magic "joy weed." The mistress in question is Mary, a mere mortal who's given her man two lovely offspring, Freya and Luke. The kids have special powers they're discouraged from using, but that will come in handy later (I won't say more, however, for fear of spoiling those surprises). Santa plans to move his illicit brood to the North Pole so they can all be one happy family together.
The only problem is that Mrs. Claus has other plans, like staying in her own house and keeping her marriage together—even if that means plunging humanity into a lake of fire. Oh, and Mary's husband, George, a drunken corporate wage ape, ain't having none of it either. Did I mention there is also a pair of polygamous, guitar-strumming elves?
The Truth About Santa is a show that firmly believes in the old show biz maxim, "Louder, faster, funnier!"—and an even rarer one that can pull it off. Clancy and Kotis keep the laughs coming fast and furious with little regard for logic or good taste, which is a blessing. The speed with which they deploy sight gags like the elves's eye-catching codpieces and goofy plot points like "the Candy Cane of the Apocalypse" is mercenary: sometimes, one has barely enough time to catch one's breath from laughing so hard at the last gag before the next one hits. Clancy and Kotis's ruthless irreverence for their subject matter is a refreshing tonic to other potentially cloying holiday entertainments—and one that concludes The Truth About Santa on a more surprisingly feel-good note than one might expect.
Lusia Strus stands out as a Mrs. Claus screaming for vengeance: she is simultaneously frightening and a hoot. And, as Santa's super-human offspring, real-life siblings India and Milo Kotis (both of whom are the playwright's real-life children) steal every scene they're in just by being who they are: pre-adolescent kids who are a little unsure of where they are and what they're doing, but are having fun nonetheless. Their authenticity is endearing, and Clancy does the production a great service by keeping their rough edges intact. (The rest of the cast—including the author himself—is appropriately...well, shaggy, an ethos that fits The Truth About Santa perfectly.)
If you want a break this year from the typical upbeat Christmas fare, The Truth About Santa is the way to go. The elves wear Crocs and the reindeer run off with the sleigh. Need I say more? Go see it and experience a new brand of holiday cheer. Ho ho ho.