by Terrance Mc Arthur
Christmas time is on its way, and so are the holiday plays, such as A Christmas Carol and all its variations, Papa’s Christmas Miracle, stories of the Christmas Truce of 1914, The Littlest Angel, and The
Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
You’ve never heard of or seen The Best Christmas Pageant Ever? Now’s your chance to remedy that omission. Barbara Robinson’s stage adaptation of her beloved children’s book is back at the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre, and you can see it live until December 23.Beth’s (Kailyn Sanders) mom (Jessica Sarkesian) is talked into taking over their church’s Christmas pageant, which is fine until Beth’s brother (Minh-Tri Hoang) brags about church snacks to the Herdmans, a pack of near-feral children led by the eldest girl, Imogene (Maisie Van Fleet) and the youngest girl, Gladys (Campbell Sloas). They take over the church program, pushing out any competition by intimidation and threats. Somehow, these uncivilized savages create an image of the Holy Family that is new and raw, yet it fills the heart, as witnessed by all the wiped-away tears in the audience.
Sanders is a cheerful and resolute narrator, explaining the group dynamics and giving a litany of Herdman crimes. She is perky, clear, and one of the pivot points of the cast.Van Vleet is another nexus. Imogene is a tough child, the de facto ringleader of the family, and Van Vleet exudes a confidence that borders on menace, but her transformation as the story of Mary’s role in the Nativity reaches the girl’s heart is subtle and wrenching. Sloas is loud, pushy, and just what the role needs.
Sarkesian embodies all the frustration of the unwilling director of the pageant that has always been the same old same old—until the Herdmans came along. She is exasperated, patient, depressed, hopeful, and resigned, with an underlayer of grit and determination. It’s a carnival of emotions that sweeps across her face. Charles Montoya as Dad, presiding over his mixed family with a droll smile, provides wry commentary on the proceedings, mostly preferring to stay home in a bathrobe. Hoang is quick on his lines, expressing distrust of anything Herdman.
The ladies of the church (Joyce Fitzgerald, Kylee Leyva, Dorie Hamby, Sylvia Sloas) are a Greek chorus of doom, forecasting disaster at every turn (Mind you, some of those turns are disastrous), while Reverend Hopkins (Juan Carlos Munoz) looks confused and conciliatory. Julianna Richardson as Alice evokes memories of the perfect children who expected to be stars—not expecting the Herdmans. Jocelyn Chavira does a nice job reciting the scriptures of the Nativity-play-within-the-play.
Dan Pessano shows his master hand in the direction of this play, in everything from the multicultural family to the amazing use of projections (prepared by Gabrielle Burton, who performed in a production of the show 23 years ago). The pictures are simple and few, but they amplify story points and strengthen the mood. Bits of stage business stick with you, like the shepherds using the oversized shepherd’s crooks to protect themselves from the imminent arrival of the pugnacious child portraying the heralding angel; Jonan Sanders as Hobie looks singularly concerned (Whenever Jonan is in a show, I feel a need to mention him. Cute kid.).
If you aren’t sure, you can overcome your Grinch-y feelings this holiday season, The
Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the booster shot you need. The 2nd Space Theatre is at 928 E. Olive Ave, in Fresno. For tickets and further information, contact www.gcplayers.com, or call (559) 266-9494.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.