'Polar Bears' plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm through Dec. 20 at Main Stage West,
104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. $15–$27 (Thursday-evening performances
are 'pay what you will'). 707.823.0177. mainstagewest.com. Not recommended for those who believe in Santa Claus.
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ONE-MAN SHOW David Templeton's 'Polar Bears' is an autobiographical heartbreaker.
Many of our Christmas stories are tales of tribulation, from Jimmy Stewart's contemplated suicide in It's a Wonderful Life to Tim Allen's accidental killing of Santa in The Santa Clause. Even Charlie Brown's seasonal affective disorder becomes a kind of wistful melancholia with enough piano jazz.
Thus it stands to reason that writer and performer (and Bohemian theater critic) David Templeton would yoke his yuletide monologue Polar Bears to a similar strategy—"tragedy plus time equals comedy," as they say. But Templeton isn't pursuing comedy so as much as catharsis.
Polar Bears is inspired by the true events that followed Templeton's divorce from and the untimely death of the mother of his two young children, and how he endeavored against incredible odds to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. Through funeral arrangements and grief and an array of misunderstandings (including the inspiration for the title, which will put a lump in your throat), Polar Bears reminds us that our children's belief in Santa may not be the best measure for our belief in ourselves as parents.
Well-directed by local theater veteran Sheri Lee Miller, the collaboration must have been akin to a protracted psychotherapy session. Though overcompensation is the modus operandi of many a divorced dad, Templeton's story, conveyed with myriad voices, including those of his children and even his own father, approaches the neurotic.
Templeton is a writer first and an actor second—not a distant second, but enough that the latter sometimes has to play catch up with the former. At worst, Templeton has a tendency toward recitation, which, at nearly two hours of live performance, is a feat in itself. But at his best, he eschews fidelity to his text and speaks truly to the emotion of the moment. It's like he's talking to a friend about one of the most challenging periods of his life. (Full disclosure: I consider myself one among David's many friends.)
Templeton's hindsight, however, is not through rose-tinted glasses—it's more like a microscope whose slide is smudged around the edges with Vaseline, which affords it a kind of Golden Age of Hollywood–style nostalgia, despite the rigorous self-examination. Polar Bears may not restore your belief in Santa Claus, but it will restore your belief in parenthood.