Review of Polar Bears
By David Templeton
Directed by Sheri Lee Miller

For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma Community Center
Sonoma, CA
Sonoma Arts Live

RUN: December 8-17, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 10, 2016)

Polar Bears Sonoma Arts Live

Photo from Sonoma Arts Live

Do you remember the moment you stopped believing in Santa Claus? Perhaps an older sibling blurted it out, or the evidence piled up, or your parents informed you that it was just a game. Have you watched the light in a child’s eyes dim as they realize the truth? For the young David Templeton, that moment came too soon, leading to a list of his own as a parent determined to give his children the gift of a magical childhood. His antics as the man behind Santa Claus are joyful and clever, until the mother’s passing casts a shadow across Christmas, drowning that levity with heartbreak.

Polar Bears navigates the numb landscape of loss and coming of age, mingled with laughter and windows of hope—as Templeton suggests, the holiday spirit is fragile, like stepping on a glass ornament when tiptoeing around the house in the dark pretending to be Santa Claus, but it is worth the effort to preserve and nourish.

Over 100 years old, the Sonoma Community Center is piece of history itself, with touches of Edwardian elegance arching over the stage. The Polar Bears set, by Steve Hagstrom and the Sonoma Arts Live team, recreates a comfortable, lived in family room strewn with decorations, toys, and boxes. It is easy to imagine living there, and Templeton spends the solo performance casually unpacking, enjoying a beer, and speaking to the audience as if they are sitting on one of the sofas beside him. He has an ease and warmth that feels natural. Simple props such as stuffed animals and a massive gray steamer trunk become characters in the stories. Templeton is a representation of all fathers who yearn for their children to be happy and loved, occasionally taking the sentiment too far and blundering, but always with their family’s best interests at heart.

Polar bears are woven throughout the stories, from frivolous details such as a wrapping paper anecdote to a deeply moving vignette at the mother’s funeral, when Andy, one of the children, begs to be a “polar bear” (pall bearer) with his father. While most of the play is crafted directly from memory, there were gaps to fill in, and Templeton turned to his children, mining surprises from their perspectives on the events. This imaginative play is filled with universal themes of love, loss, and the importance of family that are the heart of Christmas. Polar Bears does not rely on ornate costumes, a flashy plot, and a large cast. It is a quietly true exploration of the holidays that stirs our own memories, offers a hopeful future, and proves the tenacity and creativity of parents can bring a family through the darkest of times.