Dear Santa

Santa Claus (Norm Boynton) tells Marie, played by Callie Nuttall, that he loves all children regardless of race, gender and religion (Marie is Jewish). - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Santa Claus (Norm Boynton) tells Marie, played by Callie Nuttall, that he loves all children regardless of race, gender and religion (Marie is Jewish).
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

With more grim tidings than usual this year, due to an uncooperative economy, feeling the warmth of seasonal comforts is crucial for many Oak Harbor locals.

Director Linda Walbeck was recently seized by her own holiday spirit when she began casting actors for the Whidbey Playhouse comedy “Dear Santa.”

“We had a huge turnout at audition, and I thought it would be fun to cast everyone,” Walbeck said.

The decision required a little tinkering with Rob Frankel’s script, and a few shared roles, but the outcome was a true community play.

Walbeck discovered that a number of her cast members are either active or retired from the military, or children of active military parents.

And a few of the actors turned out to be seasoned pros, such as Adam Novak, 27, who once directed Steve Martin’s “The Wasp” at Glenbard Theater and performed in the “Flaming Finns Show,” a fire-eating, juggling and flaming jump rope show with “bad comedic accents.”

This bevy of local actors, many of whom became fast friends, brought a familial feel to the play.

“What it really represents is the true diversity that is the hallmark of Oak Harbor— military, non-military and transplants. If any play ever showed Oak Harbor at its best, it’s this play.”

Frankel’s “Dear Santa” is composed of a number of short scenes that switch from comedic to touching, and give the audience different takes on Santa Claus and the mysteries surrounding him.

Some vignettes are literal, such as a family discussing the origins of Santa at dinner, and others are something of a surprise (the fighting mall Santas in Act 2).

Mary Jo Strain’s execution as Jersey-accented, cigar smoking elf, Dimplekin, during a Santa police line-up scene was especially comical. Dressed in jolly elf garb and gesturing like the Godfather, she gave police a bizarre account of Santa’s break-in at Wal-Mart.

Just as quickly as a play has the audience laughing, it moves into something more heartfelt. In Scene 4, Phil, played by Stephen Schiffman Sr., is an arrogant actor trying to get out of volunteer work as a hospital Santa. After meeting a few of the patients, Phil’s self-important attitude fades and he agrees to meet with all the children.

Many of the youngest actors said they were excited to be acting alongside so many Santa Clauses, and in scenes with their parents and siblings. One family, the Schiffmans, have four members in the play.

Katherine Fisher, 11, is happy to be in her first play since second-grade.

“I just moved back here for Japan after living there for eight years, and I’ve made a lot of new friends in this,” Fisher said.

Some kids are already thinking about their own “Dear Santa” letters, which include video games, stuffed animals, and one amazing idea by an 8-year-old: “I want my teacher to pop out of a box.”

The play will follow “Peter Pan,” and with only a short time for set creation, the props will be simple. Walbeck said that almost all of the crew, from backstage to people running the lights are parents of the children.

“This play shows the true spirit of the holidays and makes for a great family experience,” Walbeck said.

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