Monday, December 12, 2022

West Side playwright delivers 'Birth of Santa'

Justin Karcher and Eric Mowery on the set of “The Birth of Santa”

By Jason Guth and Kyle Wekenmann

             With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and Christmas on the horizon, Christmas plays have returned to the West Side.

            While a traditional play like “A Christmas Carol” is being shown at Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley, or “All is Calm” at Shea’s 710 Theatre, 710 Main St., there is one play that is especially unique to the West Side: “The Birth of Santa.

            Being shown at the American Repertory Theater of WNY, 545 Elmwood Ave., the play was written by West Side resident Justin Karcher, and is directed by former West Side resident Eric Mowery, who also has a role in the play.

            “For years, we’ve always talked about how we can combine theater, but also with an art gallery vibe,” Karcher said. “Eric is a visual artist, so all the paintings that are in the play are his original paintings. I wanted to base a play around his visual work.”

            The relationship between Karcher and Mowery goes back over a decade, and that goal of basing a play around Mowery’s visual work has finally been achieved with “The Birth of Santa.”

            “We met probably about 15 years ago,” Mowery said. “I’m in the art scene and Justin’s connected to a lot of things, but when I got involved in theater, Justin had already kind of established himself as a playwright and poet at that point.”

            The two had an instant connection, meeting up and bouncing innumerable ideas off each other – a habit that’s still going strong to this day.

            Karcher, a West Delavan Avenue resident, said he has written about 15 full-length plays and musicals over the years, though this is his first major foray into the Christmas sphere.

            “I think it’s important, especially in 2022, to constantly tell new stories,” Karcher said. “I always wanted to tell kind of a new Christmas story. I feel we constantly rehash old stories, more traditional stories for any kind of holiday, and I think we need to rewrite those narratives.”

            True to his word, Karcher said that this play is a new take on the aforementioned “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

            “The Birth of Santa” has a simple message: Why do something if it doesn’t bring you joy? The play breaks down what joy means and how the meaning of it changes.

            “A lot of people don’t ask questions. They think, ‘This is what joy is. This is what happiness should be.’ And all of these concepts are very commercial. We all get in that rhythm of listlessly not thinking about what joy really means.” 

            According to the ticketing site, "The Birth of Santa" is a reimagining of A Christmas Carol. An artist, famous for Christmas-themed paintings, tries something different and has a show during the holiday season. The art is not well-received. The artist falls into a tailspin and heads back to the studio hoping to discover the true spirit of job. The artist is visited by three artists of the Christmas spirit, including Normal Rockwell, Little Drummer Boy and Brutus the robot.

            Karcher, who graduated from Canisius College and SUNY Buffalo State, said that his background in English and literature has been instrumental in his writing career, which he said gave him a “solid foundation” for his work.

            His inspiration comes from walking the streets of Buffalo and from unexpected conversations with strangers.

            Mowery, who is making his directorial debut, was complimentary of Karcher’s ability to write a script quickly. He also said that he’s never met such a prolific storyteller as his friend, whose rough draft set everything in motion.

            A grateful Mowery discussed the balancing act he has undertaken, serving as both director and cast member.

            “I’ve had a really good experience, my cast is just amazing,” Mowery said. “It is such a joy for me to watch them work through all of these scenes, and I give them all of this input and they take it and we talk about it. But then for my sequences, you’re talking to yourself. I can bounce things off of Justin and other cast mates too, but I have to wear a lot of different hats in this situation.”

            Dates and tickets for the play can be found here. The play’s final performance will take place on Dec. 23 at 7:30 p.m.