note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
With Stoneham Theatre’s dozen, exuberant, cute young company performers, the fabulous Kathy St. George and Stacy Fischer, children’s writer Barbara Robinson’s family comedy should be “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. Ryan McGettigan’s set is festive, with its large decorations and large Christmas card scrim that, when illuminated, reveals St. George as Mrs. Armstrong, sitting in traction on a hospital bed, spouting directions on how to run the church’s annual Christmas nativity pageant, according to her specific instructions. Susan Paino‘s costumes are fine, too, lacking telltale details of a specific time period. The children’s elaborate and rag-tag nativity costumes are great. Unfortunately, Robinson’s story is thin, the plot line obvious, the timing spotty. And the 25-minute intermission of this 75-minute play is longer than either act, so why have an intermission anyway? The play loses momentum and flow by breaking it up. It would be far more effective if Director Chris Carcione staged it in one act, given there aren’t major costume or set changes. The story opens with Bob (Neil McGarry) and Grace Bradley (Stacy Fischer), parents of well-behaved Beth, our narrator, (Julia Talbot) and her younger brother, Charlie,(Michael Saracco). They are dragged into directing and assisting with the church’s annual children’s nativity pageant. Longtime director Mrs. Armstrong is laid up with a broken leg, but extends her directorial power by phone, regardless. The pageant draws its usual line-up of good kids, including Molly Geaney of Lynn as Maxine. The Sunday school students have played the same tired roles annually. However, when big bully Leroy (whom Andrew Vontzalides plays with gusto), grabs Charlie’s school lunch goodies, Charlie fibs, saying he gets yummy treats in Sunday school. That’s when the burly, blustery, boisterous Herdman clan, decides to join the church’s play. However, they’ve never stepped foot in that church - or any other. When the Herdmans show up, the goody two-shoes back down and retreat, while cigar-smoking Imogene Herdman (talented Rebecca Lerman) volunteers to play the key role of Mary and her brother Ralph (Jacob De Guzman) as Joseph. Tomboy Gladys (mischievously portrayed by Casey Moriarty) creates mayhem and chaos, but all hell breaks loose when the Herdmans ask poignant - and realistic- questions about why pregnant Mary had to spend the night in a freezing barn; why Joseph didn’t take better care of her; and why the Wise Men or kings brought impractical presents to baby Jesus that weren’t even good for a baby. Meanwhile, Alice, (nicely portrayed by Stowe Brown) who perennially played Mary, is writing notes about the rowdy Herdmans’ antics and criticizing Grace’s lack of control. As the rumor mills grinds away about the Herdman kids’ behavior, even the reverend mother is distressed. Despite chronic catastrophes during rehearsals, the results are heartwarming, as the Herdmans deliver a practical approach to the blessed event. And everyone agrees it was the best Christmas pageant ever. Regardless of the play’s flaws, the kids are cute and enjoying their time in the spotlight. The show closes with a feel-good audience sing-along of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. For adult comedy fare, Boston-born “Sister” Denise Fennell returns to Stoneham Theatre in Maripat Donovan’s “Christmas Catechism,” appearing through Dec. 19. Performances are Wednesdays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays at 5 p.m.; and Dec. 15 at 7 p.m.
BOX INFO:Two-act family comedy written by Barbara Robinson, starring Stacy Fischer, appearing at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham, now through Dec. 23, Fridays at 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Dec. 21-23, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $38-$44; senior, and senior/student matinee discounts; students, $20. Call 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.