Sunday, December 10, 2017


Chi, IL LIVE Shows On Our Radar: 


It takes talent to talk a room full of strangers into feeling like friends. And it takes balls to shed the facade of playing roles others have written and tell your own backstory, warts and all, playing yourself. Mitchell Fain does all this and more. Whether he's kicking back on the Christmas set, relaxing in his bedroom slippers, or prancing across the stage in long time friend and former roommate Meghan Murphy's stiletto heels (Yes they have the same size feet!), Fain gives us the intimate treat of walking in his shoes for a few hours.

He is utterly at home on stage, playing himself, and he brings us home with him, for a drink, holiday song serenade with a few good friends, and tales of his childhood. The true chemistry of long time friendships shines through with easy camaraderie. Cameos by a rotating roster of Chicago cabaret powerhouses like Meghan Murphy, Vanessa Dunleavy and Amy Lewis Montgomery and madcap pianist Julie B. Nichols are also on tap, which is truly a treat. 

The set is dominated by a huge Christmas tree, all decked out for the holidays, a faux fireplace, a snowy window, a piano and mic ripe for holiday favorites and improv originals, and a cozy living room complete with blanket. It's an odd set up for a "Christmas special" seeing as how Fain is Jewish, and this is his story, but it works better than more schmaltzy Christian "meaning of the season" shows, as he hits a rare authenticity and joyful celebration of friends, festivities, and family, even when they're flawed. This is a holiday tale of the families we find and keep as our own, as much as it is of the families we come from.

I was expecting comedy, and Fain is a funny guy with a flair for the dramatic, and great comedic timing. Yet, I left feeling more moved and sentimental about the holidays than my usual Christmas jaded self ever gets. Since then, at least once a day, his stellar line about Christmas haunts me: "You need Jews to entertain and gays to decorate."

This show changes a bit each time, so it's a core of the same backstories along with a dose of audience inspired tangents and improv. Though certainly not kid appropriate, the press opening ended up being more sincere than snark and I left feeling like I'd just had one of those chance encounters at a party where you finally get past the small talk with someone you've known peripherally for years and genuinely get to know what they're all about.

THIS WAY OUTTA SANTALAND is both personal and universal in an exciting and relevant way, and a joy to see. Highly recommended.

Here at ChiIL Live Shows, we've enjoyed Mitchell J. Fain's annual holiday snark in The Santaland Diaries for years. I worked two seasons as an actor in a "santaland" set up in Ohio, with a trail of full blown improv fairy tale scenes leading up to Santa. We lost one alcoholic Santa after payday when he was a no show. The next, much more animated elf, was fired after the director and I walked in on him in an elevator actually smoking a crack pipe! As much as I empathize, and as funny as the Sedaris classic is, we're truly looking forward to the next iteration, as Fain returns as creator and performer of his own Very Special Xmas Special(tm), playing his own funny self in Chicago’s frothiest holiday show.

After an amazing workshop last year, Chicago's favorite holiday performer, Mitchell J. Fain, returns to Theater Wit with a full-blown, mainstage production of his hilarious and touching tell-all, This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles). Press opening is Friday, November 24 at 7:30 p.m. Performances run through December 30.

For eight seasons as the star of Theater Wit’s The Santaland Diaries, Fain was forced to restrain his most anarchic, improvisatory impulses while constrained in stripey tights and a silly elf costume.

A tour-de-force blend of storytelling, improvisation, cabaret and cocktails, This Way Outta Santaland is a sweet, sentimental evening of hard truths that change night to night. Fain squeezes holiday tales from his audience, then swirls them with his own personal war stories about family, drunks, jewelry, funerals, the holiday spirits and more than 250 performances as Crumpet the Elf.

Chicago Theater Review hailed last season’s workshop production "Highly recommended. A brand new, indispensable tradition, at once hilarious, tragic, moving and profane."

Don’t miss This Way Outta Santaland, conceived and performed by Fain, in this new, fully decked-out production directed by Jeremy Wechsler, and designed by Julie B. Nichols (music), Courtney O’Neill (set), Mike Durst (lights) and Jeffrey Levin (sound).

Performances are November 24-December 30: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m., with two added holiday week performances, Wednesday, December 20 and 27, at 7:30 p.m.

Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.

The best way to secure seats to This Way Outta Santaland is to sign up for a Theater Wit Membership. Wit’s “all the theater you can eat” deal comes with special perks and lets members see as many plays at they want in any of Wit’s three spaces for one low monthly fee of $29/$22 for students. This includes shows presented at Wit by 2017-18 resident companies About Face, Kokandy Productions and Shattered Globe, and other top storefront and visiting companies.

Single tickets to This Way Outta Santaland are $28-$40.

To purchase tickets, a Membership, or to inquire about Flex Pass options, visit or call the Theater Wit box office, (773) 975-8150.

Behind-the-scenes of This Way Outta Santaland

In addition to eight years in Theater Wit’s perennial holiday hit The Santaland Diaries, Mitchell J. Fain has also been seen in This at Theater Wit, Le Switch at About Face, at UP Comedy Club at The Second City as host of Best Musical, at La Jolla Playhouse with The Second City and at Actors Theatre of Louisville in Lookingglass Theatre’s Lookingglass Alice. Fain is an Artistic Associate of The Midnight Circus and About Face Theatre and former co-host of The Windy City Queercast. Other credits include Stilettos, Circus and Soul, Hamlet-The Musical, Henry VI, Hamlet, Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As Bees in Honey Drown, Bitches, Hay Fever, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Lynching of Leo Frank. He also performed improv and sketch comedy on The Norwegian Star as a part of a Second City touring company.

Jeremy Wechsler (director) most recently staged Theater Wit’s Midwest premiere of Anne Washburn’s 10 Out of 12, last season’s holiday workshop of Mitchell Fain’s This Way Outta Santaland and the extended Midwest premiere of Mat Smart’s Naperville. Other directing credits at Wit include the company’s election night reading of The Trump Card by Mike Daisey, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, Madeline George’s Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, and that show’s summer remount at Art Square Theatre in Las Vegas. Wechsler also staged Wit’s acclaimed Completeness and The Four of Us (Itamar Moses), Tigers Be Still (Kim Rosenstock), This (Melissa James Gibson), Spin (Penny Penniston), Feydeau-Si-Deau (Georges Feydeau), Men of Steel (Qui Nguyen), Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) (Will Eno), Two for the Show (James Fitzpatrick and Will Clinger) and The Santaland Diaries. A veteran director in Chicago with over 50 productions, his work has been nominated for and won multiple awards for design, performance, adaptation and best new plays. 

About Theater Wit

Theater Wit, Chicago’s “smart art” theater, is a major hub of the Chicago neighborhood theater scene, where audiences enjoy a smorgasbord of excellent productions in three, 99-seat spaces, see a parade of talented artists and mingle with audiences from all over Chicago.

In addition to This Way Out of Santaland, Theater Wit’s 2017-18 season opens with Significant Other by Joshua Harmon, author of Wit’s 2015 smash hit Bad Jews, about a gay man in New York whose girlfriends are all getting married, co-produced with About Face Theatre (November 2–December 10, 2017). Wit also presents America’s premiere monologist, Mike Daisey, three nights only, in three different shows commenting on the current state of the U.S.A.: This is Not Normal, The End of Journalism and The White Man’s Burden, November 16, 17 and 18.

2018 opens with Wit’s world premiere of The Antelope Party, Eric John Meyer’s comedy about adult fans of My Little Pony (January 5-February 24, 2018). Spring sees the Chicago debut of Women Laughing Alone with Salad, Sheila Callaghan’s meta-feminist satirical comedy about friendship, salad, sex, bodies, yoga, salad, men, envy, diets, salad, uppers and salad (March 9-April 29, 2018).

“A thrilling addition to Chicago’s roster of theaters” (Chicago Tribune) and “a terrific place to see a show” (New City), Theater Wit is now in its seventh season at its home at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. In 2014, Theater Wit was awarded the National Theatre Award by the American Theatre Wing for strengthening the quality, diversity and dynamism of American theater.

The company’s most recent hits include 10 Out of 12 and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, Naperville by Mat Smart, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England by Madeleine George, and Completeness and The Four of Us by Itamar Moses.

To receive an “artisanal selection of consonants and vowels from Theater Wit,” sign up at for exclusive updates, flash deals and behind-the-scenes production scoop every few weeks.

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