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The Arts
November 9-15, 2005

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Winter Nights

North Bay theater companies plan new treats for holidays


By David Templeton

When the days grow short and the nights grow long, North Bay live-theater aficionados pull out their newsletters and theater mailings, spread their newspaper calendar sections on the table, and begin to scout the listings for interesting plays and shows to punctuate the season with a bit of holiday spirit. We note the numerous stagings of The Nutcracker and the perennial Christmas Carol, and feel a warm glob of nostalgia for those shows (there is a reason they've been around so many millions of years, after all), and yet we read on to see if there will be anything different, anything at all, on the stages of the North Bay this year.

When the days grow short and the nights grow long, North Bay live-theater aficionados pull out their newsletters and theater mailings, spread their newspaper calendar sections on the table, and begin to scout the listings for interesting plays and shows to punctuate the season with a bit of holiday spirit. We note the numerous stagings of The Nutcracker and the perennial Christmas Carol, and feel a warm glob of nostalgia for those shows (there is a reason they've been around so many millions of years, after all), and yet we read on to see if there will be anything different, anything at all, on the stages of the North Bay this year.

As is usual at this time of year, I am feeling a tad conflicted. I love A Christmas Carol. I really do. When the miserly heart of mean old Ebenezer finally melts, I melt along with it every single time. I exult in the wicked beauty of Dickens having taken a ghost story, packed it with overt threats of eternal damnation and passed it off as a Christmas tale. I'm even fond of The Nutcracker, with its eerie one-eyed Toymaker and the traditional well-toned babe in veils dancing the part of Coffee. But as much as I appreciate the fevered imaginations of Dickens and Tchaikovsky, I do long for something fresh at Christmas now and then.

Fortunately, the Sonoma County Repertory Theater (104 N. Main St., Sebastopol, 707.823.0177), whose Christmas Carol runs Dec. 1-23, has developed a version of the show that is usually pretty edgy, funny and inventive--and could there be a better Scrooge than Eric Thompson, once again reprising his most popular role? But if you want something different, there are several North Bay theater companies that have cooked up a few unusual holiday side dishes to go along with the traditional goose whipped up by poor Mrs. Cratchit.

One of the most promising seasonal offerings is a stage version of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries, getting its North Bay premiere in the hands of Actors Theatre and running Dec.16-Jan. 8 at the Sixth Street Playhouse (52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa, 707.523.4185). Directed by Argo Thompson, Santaland Diaries follows a hapless, unemployed writer as he is forced to take a temporary Christmas job at New York's Macy's Department Store as an elf. His dreams of working in an upbeat whimsical environment are dashed when he discovers that being an elf and hanging out with a series of professional Santas is a little like watching someone make sausage: it's not pretty. If this version is anything like Sedaris' original true story, though, it will definitely be funny.

Also promising is Once Upon a Wishbone: A Christmas Story by the offbeat improv group the Super Dupers, running Dec. 2-18 at the Dreamweavers Theatre in Napa (1637 Imola Ave., 707.255.5483). Emily Guigni directs this multidimensional tale of a girl who wishes that every day could be Christmas, but who begins to have second thoughts when her wish comes true. The show combines music and comedy, and promises to bear the requisite amount of holiday cheer and good feeling, while also working in a refreshing bit of weirdness and fun.

For one night only on Dec. 5, at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley (415.383.9600), the cleverly titled Improvised Holiday Musical will be exactly what it sounds like: a full musical in which everything--the plot, the live music, the sung lyrics--will be made up on the spot using audience suggestions. How much do you want to bet that someone will shout out "Scrooge!" or "One-eyed Toymaker!"?

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