A REVIEW BY BOB CHIARITO
Going into “This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles)” the biggest question I had was whether the audience would get anything out of it had they never seen “The Santaland Diaries.” After all, the new show, penned and performed by Mitchell Fain, who starred in the David Sedaris show for 8 of it’s 10 years at Theater Wit was billed as a “tell all” about how “family, drunks and 250 performances collided over those years.”
But “The Santaland Diaries” was basically an afterthought in the new show. Aside from beginning with the opening lines of the Sedaris story, Fain only made a few references to the show which Theater Wit can no longer stage because of licensing issues. Instead, despite it’s billing, “This Way Outta Santaland” is a largely autobiographical show about his life; about a gay man in a largely straight world; a man from Rhode Island who came to Chicago and in the process of starring in “The Santaland Diaries” found a place that he could truly call home.
“This Way Outta Santaland” isn’t perfect and I’d expect Fain to tweak it a bit, (a long scene about the funeral home where his mother was cremated probably should be shortened) but it has the potential to become a holiday classic just as the Sedaris show was. And yes, that isn’t a misprint, there is a scene about a funeral home in this holiday show, but like “The Santaland Diaries,” “This Way Outta Santaland” isn’t a traditional holiday show.
And just like Santaland, it’s hard to know how much of the show was scripted and how much was improvised. In a recent interview with Fain, he told The Chicago Ambassador that he and co-star Megan Murphy would improvise a bit. In “The Santaland Diaries” he didn’t improvise at all, despite what his adoring audience was led to believe — a testament to Fain’s acting ability for sure. The first 30 minutes of the 90-minute show it was hard to tell if it was attempting to be a variety show, one man or three-person show. Despite that, the show is recommended because of its honesty and sweetness.
The new show featured Fain as himself, talking mostly to the audience but also to Murphy, who also sang several cabaret-style songs during it, [accompanied by Julie B. Nichols on piano who also has a few lines] both to push the story along and at times, to give some comic relief. Murphy has a fantastic voice and is a big presence in the show, literally and figuratively, and Fain makes great use of her. As for why a comedic show might need some comic relief at times — although there are a lot of funny quips and stories within the new show, there is an underlying sadness throughout. But rest assured, it is a holiday show and like all great holiday shows, it focuses on the meaning of love, home and family and along with the sadness there is a sweetness to it that will stay with the audience and likely bring them back in the coming years.
“This Way Outta Santaland” runs through December 23 at Theater Wit, 1229 N. Belmont Avenue. For ticket information, click here.