If your idea of a good Christmas marathon is "Prancer" followed by "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," you might want to stay away from Central Lakes College this weekend. CLC Theatre's spin on the season doesn't exactly go with the mainstream flow.
First up in the doubleheader to be staged Thursday-Saturday is "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," which posits that the titular ghost was just as much of a scrooge as Scrooge himself. That will be followed by the one-man "Santaland Diaries," in which a cynical elf rants about the commercialism of Christmas.
"I think the message of the show is that people take stuff too seriously at this time of year," said "Santaland's" lone actor, David Wilson of Brainerd. "People get too caught up in the rush and forget that it's just about loved ones, keeping loved ones happy. We put this on ourselves, and in some of the little monologues, I think there's not only relevant, but real stuff. People having panic attacks, people getting in fist fights over Elmo."
David Wilson is Crumpet, an elf who is disgusted with the commercialism of Christmas, in the one-man play, "Santaland Diaries." It opens Thursday at Central Lakes College. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
While "Santaland" is a scathing critique, "Marley" - which will be staged script-in-hand - is slightly more optimistic, despite having many scenes that are lit only by candles.
"'Marley' is more of a sentimental piece about redemption and finding the true spirit of Christmas," said director Patrick Spradlin, who plays the title character. "It doesn't stray too far off the beaten path from 'A Christmas Carol.' It's the same cast of characters; a little different perspective. It's similar in that regard to something like 'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead,' (where) they're still telling the 'Hamlet' story, but from a slightly different perspective."
"Marley" was staged a year ago in the college's Cultural Arts Series, and it went over well enough that Spradlin decided to bring it back. Three of the four actors are the same - Spradlin, Mike Soderlund (Scrooge) and Bob Kapitzke (various roles) - with Dwana Paplow stepping in as the Bogle.
But this time, audience members will get the bonus of "Santaland" - a $10 ticket gets you in to both shows. Wilson has wanted to do the one-man play, written in 1996 by David Sedaris, for a while.
Mike Soderlund (left, as Scrooge) and Patrick Spradlin (as Jacob Marley) acted out a scene from "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" Dec. 6 in the Dryden Theatre at Central Lakes College as Dwana Paplow (as the Bogle) looked on. The play opens Thursday, along with "Santaland Diaries." Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I saw this performed a few years ago by a theater instructor at the University of Minnesota-Morris when I was there, and I'd never laughed so hard at the theater in my life," said Wilson, who started preparing for his role as Crumpet in September, long before the first Christmas lights were up in town. "I'm having more fun with it than the version I saw, just because I'm animated. I'm having a lot of fun with the text."
But Wilson admits to nerves as well. While he has played many colorful, scene-stealing characters on the CLC stage, he has always had actors to play off of. This will be his first solo endeavor.
"I'm terrified," he said. "I've always thought I was funny and a lot of friends suggested I should do stand-up, but I'd rather do something from a script than just rattle off comically. There won't be anybody back there whispering in my ear, so it's memorized."
If you go
What: "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" and "Santaland Diaries."
Presented by: Central Lakes College Theatre's Cultural Arts Series.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Where: Dryden Theatre, CLC, Brainerd.
Tickets: $10. Phone: 855-8199 or (800) 933-0346 ext. 8199.
Web site: www.clcmn.edu/theatre.
Despite his fears, Wilson said a one-man show is easier in one respect - it's all on his shoulders, so he doesn't have to worry about cast and crew mates. Of course, that also means he has no one to blame but himself if something goes wrong.
"Probably the biggest (show I have done) was 'The Man Who Came to Dinner'" in 2006 at CLC, where Wilson played a crabby man in a wheelchair. "That was huge and that was so hard. This - not so much, because it's just me. There's no other actors I have to count on, there's nobody to interact with. This is just memorization and having fun with it.
"You don't want to lose your place; you don't want to look at someone in the crowd and think, 'That's a nice shirt. Where was I?' So it's a struggle. No escape."
The "Marley" cast, aside from Paplow, has the benefit of having done the show before. It's one of Spradlin's favorites; his former Chicago theater colleague Tom Mula wrote and performed it solo in 1998. Three years later, the four-person version debuted in Cincinnati.
"We're familiar with the Dickens tale, which is (where) Marley visits Scrooge and then these spirits come to see (Scrooge)," Spradlin said. "And in this version, Marley visits Scrooge in order for Marley to be redeemed in the afterlife after his life of greed and avarice. He's given the task of converting Scrooge - that's his one path to salvation.
"In the Dickens version, the narrator is omniscient. In this, it's Marley, who was every bit as bad as Scrooge was, in terms of being a ruthless businessman with no feelings for anyone else. So the difference is you get the story told from a first-person perspective and the revelation that comes from that person is, you know, magnifying what Scrooge also goes through. They make this journey together, so I think it's a more personal approach than an omniscient narrator telling the story."
Like "Santaland," "Marley" attempts to put the focus back on Christmas' true meaning.
"Christmas is a time of season, but the attitude that people adopt at Christmastime should be their attitude year-round," Spradlin said of the play's message. "It's about thinking about what effect you're going to be having while you're here. There's more to this life than the everyday rat race."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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