MICHAEL ECK Special to the Times Union
Section: CAPITAL REGION, Page: B11

Date: Tuesday, December 12, 2000
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Brenny Rabine’s new holiday play “Santa’s List” is a light-hearted look at a bunch of elves making the best of a bad situation — in this case the loss of Santa’s famous naughty/nice list. You can well imagine the ramifications of such a mishap, but you won’t have to, because Rabine spells them out, right down to a battle for Christmas between the good elves and the bad elves.

The turmoil ensues just an hour before Santa’s sleigh leaves for his annual rounds, when the elves discover the list is gone. The nasty efficiency expert Yuggo (John Mountford) wants to assume all children are naughty until proven nice, and decides that no list means no toys for anybody. He’s helped in his nefarious efforts by the tattling Toadie (Michelle MacShane).

Santa (Robert Durden) puts the bumbling Scratch (Matt Karris) in charge of the good elves, which seems like a bad idea to everyone but Santa. This time, Scratch makes good, taking a tack exactly the opposite of Yuggo’s angry bent. Scratch wants to give gifts to all.

It’s a good thing Scratch gets things in gear, too, because it turns out that Mrs. Claus (Barbara Mountford) took the list in an act of feminist defiance. Seems she disagreed with the concept from the start but never had the nerve to gun it down. All children, she says, deserve toys at Christmas.

In the end, good wins out over evil, and everyone (except Yuggo, who is lost in the wilds of Santa’s bottomless sack) chants along to “A Gift of Dreams.”

Rabine’s script is aimed right at the kids, but it does present some new angles on tired old ideas. It succeeds, for example, at making adults re-examine why they give gifts, and what they expect in return. It will also make all kids think about being good for its own end, instead of just for getting on the list.

Rabine’s husband, Terry, directs “Santa’s List” with a keen eye for detail. Kids want action, and Rabine gives it to them — from the fun conveyor belt that brings gifts onto the stage to Scratch’s endless twitching asides.

Karris’ innate comic ability makes him the bright spot in the cast. He’s a silent movie clown born a few generations too late. Good for him that he’s got a goofy voice, too. His Scratch is fun to watch for children of all ages.

Mountford makes a delightfully dislikable Yuggo, always taking down names on his own nasty list and handing out punishments to his fellow elves.

Jon South ably leads the rest of the good guys — including Bill Fritz as Rumblo, Victoria Terra as Naya and Barbara Winch as a sleepy Grandma Tick Tock — as the day-glow Pimly. South’s small goatee lends a Maynard G. Krebs-like flair to the character.

The real star of “Santa’s List,” however, might be Malachi R. Martin’s fantastic, towering set (as well as Patty Pawliczak’s matching costumes). It looks as though a toy store exploded on Martin’s shelves, and parents and kids alike spent Sunday’s preshow oohing-and-ahhing over the considerable, colorful wares.