Ho Ho Humbug Returns With a New, Slimmer Santa Story

It's the semi-autobiographical story of a New York City out of work writer looking for something to tide him over so he can qualify for unemployment benefits, who accepts a job as an elf and is catapulted into the Santa chair.

If you think you already know how this goes, then Ho Ho Humbug at Stark Naked Theatre may surprise you because a lot has changed in the year since the Houston launch of this play.

“Last year was the first production. I knew I was going to learn things,” says playwright Scott Burkell, who also takes on the role of main character Guy. The audience, he found, “wanted to get Guy in that Santa suit sooner.” So this year's version is not last year's model.

The play has been trimmed from two acts in two and a half hours to one act and a streamlined 90 minutes (which also means the change of clothing from Elf to Santa is accomplished onstage). Last year's stark set has been replaced with one bursting with color. “It looks like Christmas morning exploded in your house,” says Kim Tobin-Lehl, who acted in the last version and is now directing.

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Her husband, Philip Lehl, who directed the last outing, is now acting in the play. Kristen Warren (Murder Ballad at TUTS Underground, Mack and Mabel at Stages Repertory Theatre) has been added to the cast, taking on the Tobin-Lehl roles, among them: “The sassy little señorita from the Bronx; she turns into a kindly British woman who loves Santas but detests the elves.” Guy spends less time as an elf and more as Santa, roles have been tweaked and the ending has been changed.

Besides Burkell's return, Susan Draper, who delighted audiences last year as the dim and sight-challenged elf, Sparkle, is back, this time at an even faster pace with a more poignant back story, Burkell says.

As an added measure of interest, every night one lucky audience member will be invited to have a visit with Santa. Again, parents are advised this play is not for kids who believe in Santa and that because of language, it's best for those 13 years of age and older.

Dates and times vary. 1824 Spring. Through December 23. For a complete schedule, visit starknakedtheatre.com or call 832-866-6514. $15-$49. 

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