Back in 1964, a rotten movie called Santa Claus Conquers the Martians introduced a child actress named Pia Zadora in the role of a mirthless Martian child. Zadora would go on to become a mirthless singer and actress who briefly shot to semi-stardom when she won a Golden Globe in 1981 as "New Star of the Year" for her performance in an execrable strip of soft-porn celluloid called Butterfly. Zadora was married to a much older millionaire at the time; he was rumored to have bought the award for his wife by bribing members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who give out the Golden Globes. Zadora's next and wisest career move was to stop trying to be a star.
You don't have to know any of that to enjoy Level Ground Arts' no-budget production of Santa Claus vs. the Martians, an intentionally clunky stage adaptation of that 1964 movie. But it doesn't hurt.
Director Andi Allen wrote the play, another of her spoofy comedies based on drecky films (she also did Plan 9 from Outer Space). She loves to work in lots of inside references to her source material and she assumes that you're in on the joke, too, whether it's about old movies and movie gossip, TV sci-fi classics like Star Trek or classic cartoons.
Allen's cast for Santa isn't quite as funny as her script, but Level Ground is amateur theater that excuses the missed cue and the fluffed punch line. The show still makes for a cheap, fun diversion from Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers.
Like the movie, it takes the Jolly Old Elf (played by Francis Henry) from his North Pole workshop to Mars, where he's supposed to cheer up unhappy Martian tots (played as little monsters by Cassidy Crown and Rhonda Durant). Lead Martian Kimar (Billy Betsill, who has tip-top timing) decides Santa has to stay on Mars. But Christmas is coming and Santa and the two kids who came with him (Teri Rogers and Alexis Nabors, doing spot-on impressions of dead-eyed child actors) want to get back to planet Earth.
The Martian spacecraft's dashboard is made of plastic cups and Etch-a-Sketches. The costumes for the green-complexioned aliens are nothing fancier than hospital scrubs and cotton tees, with bike helmets painted green and adorned with odds and ends from a junk drawer. Like On the Eve, this show makes do with scraps and recyclables.
Best touch: having Michael B. Moore in super glam-drag as Mrs. Claus. About seven feet tall when she's on roller skates — oh, yes, skates! — she zooms across the stage of the Trinity River Arts Center in a full-length red velvet dress, tossing fake snowflakes at the "children" and making vicious remarks. She is absolutely Zadorable.