Helena Independent Record
December 10, 2009

7 Santas: Ironfront premieres a cynical survey of the seven splintered psyches of Santa

By MARGA LINCOLN Independent Record

Feeling ho-hum about the "ho, ho, ho" holiday?

Ironfront Theatre offers an antidote for all those suffering from an overload of saccharine Santas - with the Montana premiere of Jeff Goode's "7 Santas."

This twisted tale of the history of the jolly old elf opens Dec. 11 for four shows at the Montana Club Rathskellar.

"It will appeal to everyone who is dulled by the candy-cane sweetness of the holidays," said director Jerry Morrison. "If you've seen too many Christmas lights, if you've seen too many Christmas stars, if you've seen too many Wal-Mart Christmas displays ... this play will appeal to you.

"Ironfront Theatre is looking at the twisted, dark side of Christmas. With all the Nutcrackers in town (three this year), we've found our niche."

This won't be Ironfront's first cynical encounter with Santa. Previous holiday fare included

"Santaland Diaries," and "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues."

" '7 Santas' is basically a journey through the splinters of Jolly Old St. Nick - through his fractured personalities and mind. You'll see Kris Kringle like you've never seen him before in places you never thought to look for him before - in a struggle between his vices and virtues."

The idea of the show is Santa has been arrested, and the audience is cast as detectives, explained Morrison. However, no acting is required by them.

Veteran Ironfront actor Brian Francis Nettleton carries the full acting load, playing all seven Santas, who appear through seven different monologues about how Santa became Santa.

"It's funny, it's very well-written. It takes the history of Santa from the start to present day," said Morrison. "It's the story of who Santa is, was and will be.

"We explore how he comes up with toys for all the world," Nettleton said. "We also explore the selling of the North Pole."

Then there's his signature outfits. Why does he wear red and green?

There's also his rig. You'll learn why Santa traded in his flying polar bears for flying reindeer.

And there's the fascinating tale of elves and their role in the Santa economy.

In this "stylized" one-hour version of the show, "we emphasize the first act of the play, which is the histories of Santa," Morrison said.

"(Goode) is a very ingenious writer. I don't know how he comes up with this stuff. The first part is brilliant."

It also happens to be the part of the play that has drawn glowing reviews from critics in Chicago, where the play premiered in 2007. (Whereas the second act earned lumps of coal.)

"What drew me to it," Morrison said, "is I wanted something to showcase one actor's chameleon-like skills."

"The challenge for me is to create the different varied psyches of Santa's mind with one actor through different rhythms," Morrison said.

"Different intensities and rhythms," added Nettleton.

Although Nettleton has portrayed a wide range of characters in 30 some shows at Ironfront. From Oscar in "Oscar and Felix" to Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to a degenerate daughter in the "Reindeer Monologues," he admits that this Sybil-like part is his biggest acting challenge to date.

"This will push me," he said.

But it's a challenge he's looking forward to.

This is one Christmas show where it's best to leave the kids at home. Morrison recommends it for those 16 years old and older.

"After you've gone to all your kids' Christmas pageants," Morrison said, come have an adult drink and enjoy some adult humor.

"It's the perfect way to unwind during this holiday season."