Traditionally, the only things twisted about Christmas were the red and white stripes around a candy cane. Then came Petaluma writer David Templeton and his short-story showcase “Twisted Christmas Live!”
Now in its second year, “Twisted Christmas Live!” is an anthology of weird holiday-themed short stories read live by Bay Area performers. Saturday evening’s single performance benefits Food for Thought Food Bank, a nonprofit organization that provides food and prepared meals for adults and children with AIDS throughout Sonoma County. Proceeds will be shared with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Rosa, which will host the event.
“The idea of taking Christmas and working it into something off-beat is certainly not completely new,” Templeton said. “You can argue that Charles Dickens did it best with ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” said Templeton, whose penchant for irreverent humor and interest in aiding his community dovetailed into the original inspiration for “Twisted Christmas Live!”
Inspired by last year’s turnout, Templeton was keen to continue presenting offbeat Christmas tales that maintain, as he says, “some of the spirit of Christmas, but hopefully in kind of a tweaked way.”
Moreover, Templeton offers the event as something of a respite from the traditional holiday fanfare that might be growing stale for some of his audience.
“It’s something different that people haven’t done to death already,” said Templeton, who selected stories that feature all order of holiday mayhem, including one he wrote himself that finds a gingerbread man fleeing a hungry Santa Claus.
“What’s important for me in putting these stories together is to have a balance. I want people to feel good, not just freaked out,” said the author. “There are plenty of stories that I’ve uncovered that are merely twisted and a little bit sick. Some of them are entertaining, in a way, in how far they will go. I’m looking for something that is offbeat but still kind of uplifting in a way.”
Reading with Templeton are political satirist Will Durst, local bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, North Bay radio personality Bill Bowker and Debi Durst, a voice-over artist whose voice has appeared in animated films “Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Monkeybone.” She also happens to be married to Will Durst.
Wiley Wood of the band Stiff Dead Cat, actor and comedian Jim Cranna and actress Diane Amos (known by many as television’s Pine-Sol pitchwoman) will also read.
Oh, and there are the zombies, of course.
“The zombies will open the show,” Templeton said. “They will come lurching into the theater, assemble onstage, and at a cue from a pitch-pipe they will begin singing reasonably well for zombies.”
Templeton contended that supernatural visitors are par for the course in Christmas stories and pointed out that Dickens’ famed yuletide yarn is packed with apparitions and is essentially a ghost story.
“We actually don’t have any ghost stories this year, though I just added one about Satan, so maybe that will suffice,” he said wryly.
Templeton, a film columnist for the North Bay Bohemian, has spent much of the year reading Christmas-themed books for stories apropos of “Twisted Christmas Live!”
“It’s been surprisingly hard to find ones that fit what I’m looking for,” said Templeton, who is putting the finishing touches on his own story about “triplets raised by a pack of feral mimes.”
Templeton pointed to Robertson Davies’ “The Devil Goes Home for Christmas, ” as a story that fits the bill. The work, to be read by Cranna, finds the narrator bumping into the devil who purports to be homesick for Christmas.
“He talks about how everyone celebrates the birthday of who he calls his little brother, and no one cares about his birthday,” said Templeton, who explained that the story’s narrator decides to celebrate the devil’s birthday himself.
“You actually kind of feel good for the devil. I like that, it’s both right and wrong at the same time,” said Templeton, who hopes that “Twisted Christmas Live!” will be “an escape from the norm.”
“I see people’s reaction when they’re looking at a poster about it, or when I’m talking about it and the ‘twisted’ part of it really causes something to light up in their eyes. They will say, ‘We could use a little more twistedness at Christmas time.’ “
Templeton is not one to shirk tradition, but he does feel that people often go on a sort of cultural autopilot around the holidays.
“I think people fall into kind of a rut of what they expect and there’s all this kind of middle-of-the-road, mushy sentimental stuff,” he said.
Debi Durst, who will appear throughout the show with installments from her own short story (it begins with the author absconding with a ceramic Baby Jesus from a neighbor’s yard because it “looks lonely”), concurs with Templeton.
“For one thing it’s a different form of the medium. We have a comfy chair — it’s like somebody’s living room — but the stories are slightly twisted,” said Durst of the production’s homey set. “People need relief from the holidays. There’s so much goodness floating around — it’s just not good at all,” she joked.
“Twisted Christmas Live!” plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian- Universalist Building (formerly the UA5 Theater), 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. Tickets cost $15, $12 for seniors and children under 12, and can be purchased at Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, Copperfield’s Bookstore in Petaluma, Back Door Disc and Tape in Cotati and the Raven Film Center in Healdsburg.