‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians' is outlandish fun in Fullerton
Maverick Theater hits a bulls-eye with its parody of the 1964 kiddie fantasy, routinely ranked as one of the worst films of all time.
By ERIC MARCHESE
For the sixth consecutive year, Fullerton's Maverick Theater has unfurled its signature Christmas show, a parody of the 1964 B-movie "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." While most seasonal stage productions are meant to warm the heart, this staging wants you to laugh yourself silly.
Considering producer-director Brian Newell's style, and his and Nick McGee's adaptation of Glenville Mareth's screenplay, are rife with "Second City"-like satire, the show succeeds in doing exactly that, taking merciless potshots at a god-awful kiddie flick that's routinely ranked as one of the worst films of all time.
Everything here is played for laughs, from the earnest Earth children who wind up aboard a Martian spaceship with Santa to the stylized, ultracivilized diction of the Martians and the gloriously tacky sets and props. This is total, unabashed kitsch, outlandishly funny for being so – and the more outlandish and over-the-top, the better.
The Maverick's cabaret stage space has been adorned with colored lights, wreaths and other holiday decorations that fit the season while setting the stage for the story, which takes place at Christmastime in 1964.
All things Martian are targeted for laughs, from the aliens' green skin and matching green apparel to their precise British delivery. The story revolves around Kimar (Robert Dean Nunez), head of the red planet's high council, and his two closest aides, Voldar (Nathan Makaryk) and Chormar (David Chorley). The plot is pushed along by Voldar's evil nature and his attempts to kill Santa and siblings Billy and Betty.
Though they don't have much stage time, three other Martians are focal points: Chochum (Ryan Young), an ancient, bearded, doddering old fool; Kimar's sublimely pretty wife Momar (Rene Andersen, alternating with three other actors); and Kimar's squeaky-voiced daughter, Girmar (Leah Feliciano).
The Martians aren't the only objects of ridicule. Siblings Billy (Jamie Scheel, alternating with Ryan Clark) and Betty (Katie Sapp) are mercilessly mocked – Billy for his bizarre get-up (propeller beanie, superhero cape, bowtie, suspenders, cowboy boots and sheriff's badge), Betty for her slushy, slobbery speech. One running joke has the adults unable to remember Betty's name, offering instead such off-the-wall monikers as "Bianca," "Beyoncé" and even "Barack."
Nunez is ideal for the role of Kimar. The actor's quirky persona and oddball delivery and body language are deliberately off-kilter, whether his emphasis of the word "ear" when saying "Earth" or his stutter-step fits of Martian laughter.
Makaryk revels in Grinch-like Voldar's deliciously evil nature as the Martian meanie delights himself with his capacity to thwart everything good and wholesome (he's even jokingly referred to as "Voldemort").
One can't imagine a better St. Nick than McGee. Unlike the clueless clod of the film, this Santa is bright and resourceful, yet also able to chuckle along with others, spoof himself and go with the play's self-referential, and often self-ridiculing, flow.
Scheel's bookish Billy and Sapp's freckle-faced Betty spoof dorky kids everywhere. Sapp also proves herself a quick-change artist by appearing as Mrs. Claus, who speaks in the round, plummy tones of all great thespians. Chorley's Chormar and Donny Van Horn's goofy elf Winky are gentle and lovable. Even the unseen Michael Keeney, alternating with two other actors in the role, makes the Martian robot Torg seem lifelike.
Newell and McGee have punched up Mareth's original screenplay, but they're helped immensely by the cast's ability to improvise, with many an ad-lib aimed at unsuspecting audience members. The jokes are dead-on, whether Santa's mistaking the Martians for "giant Gumby dolls" or a polar bear reference to past holiday-time Coca-Cola commercials.
Kudos, too, to the show's production design: Newell's sound and video schemes and design of the Martian flying saucer, Martian helmets and flight deck; Heidi Newell's fanciful costumes; Jim Book's lighting design and technical direction; Makaryk's "Captain Kirk" command chair; and the team that helped to build, install and operate every aspect of the show.
The set pieces and props are deliberately cheesy, with prosaic items like an ironing board, stationary bicycle and toilet plungers used as vital spaceship equipment, while Santa's workshops have the look and style of something by Rube Goldberg. Newell enhances the play's sense of the here-and-now through live video feeds that show bits of stage action in grainy black-and-white on a view screen over the spaceship's massive main entrance.
The style, tone and atmosphere of this clever version of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is one of goofy good cheer – so treat yourself and your children to an afternoon or evening of well-deserved laughter and catch this Christmas gem, fast becoming a local theater tradition.
Published: Dec. 12, 2011