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THEATER REVIEW: “Bearded”

A department-store Santa is a star only briefly, but in that time he can make a big impression on the kids who climb onto his lap to tell him what they want.

At CircleCircledotdot, virgin Santa Nick (Michael Nieto) arrives early at Westwield’s Morton Plaza Shopping Centre in hopes of getting some Santa training. Instead, he runs into grumpy elf manager Lynne (Soroya Rowley), who notes “I have the worst f-ing hangover of my life, and my elf name is Flowers,” then waves in the direction of the costume and wishes him luck.

Soon photographer elf Jessica (Laura Kaplan-Nieto) arrives to tell him his most important job is to keep each kid interested long enough for her to get a photo.

So much for training.

The lack of training is one thing playwright Katherine Harroff (also C2d2’s artistic director) learned about when she interviewed several mall Santas as research for “Bearded,” which plays through Dec. 21 at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.

Santa Nick’s first day brings a wild and strange assortment of kiddies, from terminally shy Lily (Cory Drummond) – who takes four tries to finally crawl up next to the bearded one – to a really odd kid in a straitjacket (Michael Parrott).

Kids aren’t what they used to be. They don’t want toys or dolls anymore, but an X-box, Wii or iPad. Yet, there is 8-year-old Manny (Taylor Wycoff), who comes alone on the bus and wants his alcoholic mom to get better and stop drinking.

Santa Nick stays out of the elf infighting (something about who stole whose boyfriend) and concentrates on his little visitors. Nieto is convincing here, as he actually seems to be listening to the kids, not just pointing them toward the camera and shoving them off his lap.

The “Bearded” ensemble (which also includes Keith Hammond as a very un-Christmaslike mean dad and several other parts) is on the run the whole time, making lighting-fast costume and personality changes in order to make these speedy Santa visits work.

It must be tough to listen to all the impossible wishes and be powerless to grant them. But Nieto and the rest of the cast give us a funny – and often touching – glimpse into that world.

The details

CircleCircledotdot’s production of “Bearded” plays through Dec. 21 at 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., Downtown.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinee Sunday at 4 pm.

Tickets: HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.