KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 22, 2000
Cue the Christmas bells. (SOUND) Cue the cowbell (SOUND). Cue the cow (SOUND).
Another Christmas cash-cow sidles into the already crowded holiday field. Look! There’s the Sugarplum Fairy, and Ebenezer Scrooge, and over there’s the Grinch. And, demanding a significant piece of its own commercial real estate, Lamb’s annual bovine contender, “Festival of Christmas.” So what’s wrong with a little milk of human kindness, especially if the holiday cheer hauls in enough bucks to support other, sometimes more risky, fare the rest of the year?
Every holiday season, for the past 23 years, Lamb’s has at least two Christmas shows running at once. They’re enormously popular, virtual sellouts. The talent is always commendable, though the vehicles they ride are sometimes a bit shaky.
This year’s Festival is a repeat performance — one of resident writer Kerry Meads’ earlier efforts. It’s got the usual nostalgia and feel-good ending. But as a piece of theater, it falls short. Mostly, it seems like a good excuse for the resident company to get together and sing some beautiful Christmas songs, in terrific arrangements by the ever-inventive Vanda Eggington. In between the lush harmonies, there’s a flimsy tale of a Christmas Eve family reunion, circa 1951. It’s a reminiscence, with diary entries, read to us by young Shirley Marie Weisser. It’s more a slice of life than a story, actually.
Friction and conflicts bubble up, but never get resolved. Does the spinster sister ever marry the nerdy, forgetful phone-man? Is there any reconciliation between the negative mother and neglected daughter? Isn’t there some chink in the hyper-cheerful, fertile family of the third sister? Does the taciturn, post-war fighter pilot ever connect with or understand his daughter? We never know.
The only trajectory of the piece is that Shirley comes to accept her new German stepmom. There isn’t any more depth to the characters than there is to the plotline. But, much to their credit, this stalwart Lamb’s ensemble isn’t just phoning it in, even though they’re all typecast as characters they could play in their sleep. But each of them, gently guided by director Deborah Gilmour Smyth, finds a little quirk or behavior that makes them more than cardboard cutouts… even if that bit of stage business does tend to wear out its welcome over the course of an evening. But the professionalism never flags.
Mike Buckley has created yet another of his detailed living room/kitchen/upstairs sets, complete with working fireplace. Jeanne Reith has provided lovely, evocative period costumes. Best of all, something that Lamb’s does so well, is its discovery and nurturing of young talent. Tania Henetz is a total natural, a thoroughly engaging onstage presence. Here’s hoping for much more exposure from Tania, and not just in the Christmas-cow pasture. She’s a delight… and that’s the udder truth.
Happy Holidays! — and don’t forget to stuff your stockings with Performing Arts Gift Tix.
Cue the Christmas music…
SONG: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.