by Terrance Mc Arthur
About the time we put the decaying jack-o-lanterns out of their misery, we begin that long slide into Christmastime. You may not think yourself ready to leap into holly-mistletoe-carol mode, but you can do yourself a favor and jump-start the old Christmas Spirit by going to the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever between now and December 21.
In 1972, Barbara Robinson’s story was published, the tale of a church Nativity program hijacked by the Herdmans, a rough-and-rowdy family of children who had more contact with Child Welfare than with the Christmas Story of the birth of Jesus, and how their discovery of the meaning of the holiday unlocks a new understanding in those around them. Robinson (who died last year) adapted her book in the 1980s for a television version that featured M*A*S*H’s Loretta Swit…and for the play, GCP has given us as an early Christmas present.
Petite and demure Karlie Stemler plays Beth Bradley, the narrative voice of the play, with a clear voice and a winning personality. Liz Stoeckel exudes determination as the unwilling pageant director desperate to prove the naysayers wrong, with a will to deal with every setback with good humor. Ken Stocks, late of “The Comedy of Errors,” shows good humor as the dad who would rather stay at home in his bathrobe than endure another typical Christmas pageant (Of course, with the Herdmans around, nothing will be typical). Drake Burrell is chipper as the Bradley son who unknowingly sets the Herdmans on a crash course with the Nativity.
Nicole Wagoner oozes pugnacious trouble as Imogene Herdman, with Tony Folmer, Peter Hartley, Sterling Parker, and Colby Priest trailing menacingly behind her as her brothers. A bossy form of menace is provided by little sister Gladys, played with precision by Abby Spain. As the uber-perfect church girl who has played Mary in the pageant until she feels entitled to it, Kenzie Stafford oozes snobbery and clouds of red hair.
Giovanni Novarro as the kind-hearted minister, Joyce Fitzgerald as the perennial-but-incapacitated pageant director who still tries to run things by telephone, and Catherine Hartley as a fault-finding church lady lend able support. David Pierce’s unit set is warm and inviting, Brandi Martin’s lighting makes everything glow, Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes for the pageant evoke bathrobes and sheets, and Robert Sanchez directs briskly with a series of vignettes as snappy as an episode of “Laugh-In.”
As the Herdmans turn the church into a den of chaos and cigar smoke, they give the audience another view of the Christmas Story, where Joseph and Mary are poor and out of place in a strange town, where angels can be pushy and excited about getting the shepherds to the stable, and where the Wise Men consider beating up Herod. I laughed and I cried, and I was glad I saw this production. Go. See it. Feel good about the holiday season.
The 2nd Space is at 928 E. Olive Avenue, at Olive and Van Ness. For reservations and info, please call (559)266-0660. Tickets are $18 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
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