Like snarled traffic, retail clusterf@#%s and the endless repetition of the same 10 songs on the radio, you can always count on Bay Street Theatre during the days leading up to Christmas. Yes, Virginia, Bay Street will always have a holiday show. Yes, it will always be weird.
This year, it's The SantaLand Diaries paired with Season's Greetings, both from the prolific pen of humorist David Sedaris. They are bizarre and, wouldn't you just know it, damn funny.
"The trend for us, for the Christmas shows, is to pick something that's light-hearted," says director Travis Coles, who also handled last year's bizarre (and damn funny) Eight Reindeer Monologues. "Not the traditional. Something to get away from the seriousness of the season."
Each show has just one character. In SantaLand, it's Sedaris himself, recounting his experiences assisting a department store Santa. He's an elf named Crumpet, and he hates his job. Natch.
A Mrs. Dunbar is the narrator of Season's Greetings. Dressed in an overly festive (aka tacky) Christmas sweater, she's reading her annual "family holiday newsletter," all the while explaining away an increasingly strange series of circumstances.
There are four Bay Street shows, and two sets of performers doing two shows each (thare are two alternating Crumpets, and two alternating Mrs. Dunbars).
Show up whenever you like, Forrest Gump, because (and I'm paraphrasing here) you never know who you're gonna get.
"While it technically is a reading," says Coles, "I picked these particular folks because they'll bring a lot more acting into it. All four of them are very talented at these kind of shows that are monologues, where the actor has to rely on himself, not his interaction with other actors."
We spoke to the Christmas quartet about this gift they're giving: Bay Street perennials Christopher Stanley, who played Pirelli in Sweeney Todd and recently wrapped up his first term as Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, and Valerie America Lavelle (in 2013: Speech and Debate, Reefer Madness); plus Erin L. Muller and Nick Dephetereos, who were both part of the antlered ensemble cast of the 2012 holiday show, The Eight Reindeer Monologues, among other things.
Valerie America Lavelle (Season's Greetings): "It's really funny how she recounts everything that's happened to her throughout the year, and the desperation of her trying to keep going ... even though all these horrible things have happened, to rock her sense of what's good and righteous in her world. The way David Sedaris wrote it, I think it's so very easy to get into that character. They're very relate-able in ways. Even though everything is going crazy for her, I think everybody can sort of relate to her saying 'No, no, it's all fine!' because it's the holiday season."
Nick Dephtereos (SantaLand Diaries): "He's working at Macy's department store, and there's a bunch of ... well, they're probably just normal people, but if I was swamped by a million crazed people with screaming kids, and ridiculous ideas of Christmas, I think I would probably be rotten and miserable too. And I would probably want to tell people about it!"
Christopher Stanley (SantaLand Diaries): "I think the first David Sedaris story I heard was Holidays on Ice — him talking about learning about Santa in ... Belgium, I think it was. Where rather than eight reindeer, he has eight black men. Who used to be his slaves, now they're just really good friends. And when you've been naughty, rather than getting coal, they beat you up and take you to Spain. Which apparently is a bad thing in Belgium."
Erin Muller (Season's Greetings): "All the shows Bay Street does are really interesting. Because we do the big moneymakers like The Rocky Horror Show and Sweeney Todd, the big musicals that bring everyone in, we're fortunate enough to be able to do these smaller shows. Not that David Sedaris isn't well-known! But this isn't a huge show. And that's what I like about Bay Street."
Nick Dephtereos: "I have to be careful that I'm playing my Crumpet, and not David Sedaris. Crumpet has to be me, through the lens of David Sedaris. I have to go inside and find my inner queeny catty bitch. And it's very easy!"
Christopher Stanley: "We definitely move around and engage the audience. It's not just some sit-down reading, then bowing and walking off the stage."