Originality fills ‘Seasonal Bags’ in latest St. Charles theater installment

Becky Johnson (Kate Roberts) is caught in the middle as Christmas Drunk (Stephen Pickering) goes bag-to-bag with Holiday Thief (Carl Zeitler) in "Seasonal Bags" at STC Theater [L to R: Stephen Pickering, Kate Roberts, Carl Zeitler] [photo credit: Debbi Dennison]

# # #

ST. CHARLES – WT Productions continues the tradition of presenting six original short plays that study Christmas and the winter holidays from different perspectives. Staged in St. Charles, “Seasonal Bags” is the fifth production blending light comedy, dark comedy and drama.

The current show, like the ones that preceded it, is written, produced and directed by Debbi Dennison of Streamwood and Carl Zeitler of Glen Ellyn. The “Seasonal Bags” cast features Mark Brewer (Mt. Prospect), Gail Cannata (Aurora), Dennison, Katelyn Lane (Chicago), Stephanie Turner O’Kelley (Lombard), Stephen Pickering (Fox River Grove), Kate Roberts (Lockport), Nikolai Sorokin (Wheaton), Erick Sosa (River Grove) and Zeitler.

Troy and Roy bring Becky Johnson (Kate Roberts) joy in "Seasonal Bags" at STC Theater [photo credit: Debbi Dennison]

“Our ‘Seasonal’ shows are different than your typical holiday show because, first, our material is all original,” Dennison stated in a news release. “We are telling stories that the audience doesn’t know, and, therefore, they don’t know the outcome either.  Second, we feel strongly that the holiday season isn’t always a happy time of year for everyone. So, we like to explore all emotions, experiences and characters of the season. Third, our finale is a ‘mashup’ of the previous five pieces. The five worlds collide in a new story. Little did we know when we tried this out the first year that it would end up becoming our ‘Seasonal’ signature style.”

“Seasonal Bags” plays for six performances from Dec. 2 to 11. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. All performances take place at the new STC Theater, the building previously home to Vero Voce Theater, 3755 E. Main St. (Route 64), Suite 158, in St. Charles.

“I’m excited that a new theater is out there in the world. I’m grateful that Tara Frost of STC Theater partnered with us to continue the ‘Seasonal’ tradition,” Zeitler said. “The world needs more theater, not less.”

WT Productions was founded by Dennison and Zeitler, and they began the “Seasonal” shows in 2017 with “Seasonal Ties.”

“‘Seasonal Bags’ is different from other holiday shows in the uniqueness and originality of each story,” said Sosa, who is returning to the cast. “All have a Christmas or holiday theme, but the characters and storylines are original, distinct and differ from what you usually see. Year after year, Carl and Debbi come up with something new, and they don’t repeat or copy from previous years.”

Eve (Gail Cannata) is unaware that Holiday Thief (Carl Zeitler) is after "Seasonal Bags" at STC Theater [L to R: Gail Cannata, Carl Zeitler] [photo credit: Debbi Dennison]

“Seasonal Bags” consists of “In Cahoots,” written and directed by Zeitler, which portrays the lengths people will go to in order to win a Christmas-themed competition. The second play of the show is “The Last Noel,” written and directed by Dennison. It deals with an anxious woman who spends Christmas Eve on a meaningful park bench, and encounters a stranger who is more familiar than she realizes. The first act ends with “Misfit Camping,” written and directed by Dennison and Zeitler, and it shows what happens when cousins gather for an annual holiday camping trip that will certainly go down in history.

The second half of the show begins with “Rise and Shine,” written and directed by Zeitler. The play looks at two siblings reliving memories of their recently deceased mother with the help of an unexpected visitor during the holidays. The fifth play is “The Bagged Wrapper,” written and directed by Dennison. This one deals with two local celebrities who conceal their identities to go “bag-to-bag” in a wrapping competition on local TV’s hottest show. The finale of the production is “Mixed Bag,” written and directed by Dennison and Zeitler. The entire cast will appear as plotlines and characters from all the other plays connect with one another.

While some actors have appeared in several of the shows, it’s just as common for new actors to join the mix each year. This season, three actors of the 10-person cast are new.

It’s always an energizing sign of growth if theater groups include new people, Zeitler said.

“‘Seasonal Bags’ is so fun because it incorporates so many genres in ways that many other shows can’t,” said Sorokin, a new cast member. “Just in this one show, I have parts with comedy, drama and a little bit of horror. Also, the finale wrapping everything up (pun intended) is so unique, and left me reconsidering the whole show in ways that I have never seen in a play before.”

Dennison appreciates the collaborative nature of the series.

“We are fortunate that we cast a lot of seasoned actors that aren’t afraid to take risks or try things,” she said. “It’s so exciting to work with an actor that comes in with many ideas for his or her character. Sometimes, they bring in an idea that I had never thought of, and it works better than I originally imagined. Many of our actors are also directors themselves, so they are excellent at making suggestions for movement on stage. I don’t like treating actors as puppets, but prefer to look at them as collaborators.”

Pickering is one of those seasoned actors, having acted and directed at a variety of venues in the area. He is appearing in his third “Seasonal” production.

“I really enjoy working with Carl and Debbi as both writers and directors. They give us insights into the characters and stories that actors don’t get when working on some of the more ‘traditional’ plays you find in the season. It really helps me focus in on the characters I’m developing,” he said.

Tickets cost $20. Tickets and additional show information are available at wtproductions2.weebly.com. “Seasonal Bags” is appropriate for PG-13 audiences due to language and content. Free parking is available at STC Theater.

Dennison reflected on what she enjoys about the annual process.

“I love putting a twist on traditional holiday stories, themes or characters,” she said. “I love thinking outside the box, but yet keeping the emotion real. And I absolutely love writing the finale. It’s my favorite ‘Seasonal’ thing to write because it turns into a game to figure out how to make these five worlds collide and make sense.”