In Review

Another Night Before Christmas

2.5 out of 5 stars
2.5 out of 5 stars - 'Comme ci, comme ça'
City Lights Theatre Company
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo
Starring Michael Johnson and Lisa-Marie Newton, plus Anne Younan as The Voice
Review by Clinton Stark

Is Santa Claus real or is he just a homeless man with a jolly attitude, bursting belly and good sense of humor?

Grumpy, burnt-out Karol (Lisa-Marie Newton) must search for the answer when The Man (Michael Johnson) breaks into her home on Christmas eve.

His motives are unclear; instead of stealing her stuff, he brings in a bag of goodies. Later, he pulls out all the stops in an effort to convince Karol that Christmas is worth celebrating, and transforms her downtown apartment into a blinking, red and green wonderland.

Karol, however, carries a big chip on her shoulder. Years of failed relationships and an often unsatisfying job as a social worker has left her bitter and certainly adverse to the idea of Jingle Bells.

Worse still, the new HAL-wannabe security system has a mind of its own, and asks her to change the pass-code incessantly while calling her anything but her real name.

Lisa-Marie Newton and Michael Johnson. Photo by Vera Sloan.
Lisa-Marie Newton and Michael Johnson. Photo by Vera Sloan.

Meanwhile, The Man, is of mysterious origin. He looks like Santa. Knows a lot about Santa. And he definitely acts like Santa—jolly,large, with plus-size white beard. He too has his own issues. “You try looking thin in red!” he says to Karol in exasperation as she slowly warms to the idea that this may indeed be more than just a homeless man in need of a shower.

Is this the same Santa Clause she wrote to as a 6-year-old, when she actually believed in him for “about 15 minutes?” And why has The Man entered my life, why me?

Some of these questions are answered. It’s part of the thrill of the production; it’s a unique premise and the set-up clever. However, there are many rough edges in the script and dialog that result in an uneven show. The two actors do what they can, with occasional breakthroughs, despite the kludgy material. It’s too bad. Perhaps a re-write or two, and some close work between the writers and the actors would provide the polish needed to fulfill its potential. Also, there are too many scenes where not much happens.

My other issue is with the character of Karol. She’s hard. A grumpy old lump of coal. Perhaps too much so. We’d like for a moment to see that she has a heart, has some hope. Later the transformation does happen, but it’s so dramatically counter to everything we know about her up to that point that it seems trite.

Regardless, there are some charming moments in Another Night Before Christmas, especially in the second act when the story picks up momentum. One highlight is the musical number ‘I Want to Kill Bing Crosby.’ The chemistry, singing, and laughs hit home perfectly.

Both actors do fine work and should be commended for carrying a two hour show with emotional ups and downs. It’s always a pleasure to take in a show at City Lights. The sight lines are great and the atmosphere so well suited for productions such as these. If you don’t mind a few script hiccups, you could still find a lot to enjoy in this show—there is an uplifting message here that could re-energize your holiday spirit.

Another Night Before Christmas
City Lights Theatre Company
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo
Starring Michael Johnson, Lisa-Marie Newton and Anne Younan
To December 20, 2009
Tickets $25-40

Noteworthy (potential Spoiler alert)

  • A clock on the set displays the actual time.
  • This is City Lights’ 27th season; last year brought 6 Season productions, 4 new play readings, and 9 Jazz showcases, all with a budget of only $536,000.
  • The Owl pajamas worn by Lisa-Marie were purchased at Target.
  • The beard is real!
  • Another Night Before Christmas premiered in 2007, was produced two times in 2008, and five times in 2009.
  • Is that snow? No, it’s shredded coconut. And it can only be used as a snowball one time. Once it mixes with dirt it loses its zingability.
  • Wine = white grape juice.
  • A natural. Michael Johnson has been playing Santa Claus since the age of 12. “Yes, I have the Santa look,” he says.
  • What’s in that bag? We never find out in the show, but during the talkback we learn that it contains some Pellegrino, black folded mirrors and a wadded up brown bag.
  • Rehearsals lasted 4 weeks.
Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear