BWW Reviews: A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS is a Feel Good Holiday Show
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by David Clarke
Based on the endearing Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Main Street Theater's Theater for Youth is presenting a feel good children's holiday show that the whole family can enjoy. A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS, adapted by James DeVita, is inspired by the Christmas happenings in Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and borrows Mrs. Oleson and Nellie Oleson from On the Banks of Plum Creek. The plot of the play revolves around a pre-Christmas party that is being thrown at the Ingalls' home. An unexpected storm threatens to cut off everybody's access to town, so the guests have to make a hurried departure and cut the party short. Continued rains and a ruined bridge threaten to ruin Christmas for Laura and Mary, until they come up with their own plan to preserve the magic of the holiday.
Direction by Katie Harrison is crisp, even if the first act does feel a bit long. The characters in the play are introduced and well established, ensuring that audience members with no previous knowledge of the Ingalls family will hold them close to their hearts for years to come. The second act is emotionally powerful in its gentle reminders of why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Mary and Laura are devastated that Santa Claus won't be able to cross the creek and deliver presents for them. Unable to sleep on Christmas Eve, the girls decide to make handmade gifts for Ma and Pa, so that they will have something to open on Christmas morning. Katie Harrison's cast, from beginning to end, magnificently plays their characters so that these moments can be touching, sentimental, and sweet.
As Laura and Mary, Natalie Pawalek and Lauren Dolk are the stars of the show. Utilizing the dynamic bond of sisterhood present in Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels, they perfectly understand the vibrant relationship the sister's share and expertly bring it to life on stage for the audience to enjoy and cherish. Natalie Pawalek's Laura is a tomboy that loves to help her father with his chores and to play outside. Lauren Dolk's Mary is her mother's daughter, finding pleasure in helping with domestic duties. The actresses and the show itself embrace both of these feminine identities. Neither one is treated as being better than the other, and in a society that wants to cling so rigidly to stereotyped and inflexible gender roles for young girls, the actresses ensure that all girls will find themselves celebrated in at least one these two characters.
Amy Garner Buchanan's Ma Ingalls is mirthful and warm. She is a strong, loving matriarch that teaches and instills these values into her daughters while cherishing them for who they are.
Pa Ingalls, played by Alan Hall at the performance I saw, was a cheerful hard worker. His ability to tell a story was captivating, and significantly showcases to young audiences what life was like before television, movies, and smart phones.
Portraying Mrs. Oleson and Nellie Oleson, Zona Jane Meyer and Claire Anderson do great jobs of illustrating their superiority complexes while remaining likeable. The Oleson's are a city family with money and cannot understand why the Ingalls would live so far from town and rely on their own labors to provide food and shelter for the family. The rivalry between Nellie Oleson and the Ingalls girls is smartly played by Claire Anderson, but does not receive as much attention as it does in the TV show.
Mr. Edwards played by Rodrick Randall is a fun and humorous portrait of the hardships of pioneer life. He tries to win the children over by telling tales, but the kids are only interested in the stories of Pa Ingalls. He also brings a family-friendly dose of gritty realism to the show, explaining that he has no family to enjoy the holiday with. He and Ma Ingalls make arrangements for him to enjoy Christmas dinner with the Ingalls family, but after the rains make the creek impassable, it seemed that he wouldn't be able to come. Adding to the emotional climax of the show, Rodrick Randall's Mr. Edwards compassionately risks his own life to ensure that Mary and Laura get gifts from Santa Claus.
Nick and Peter, played by Curtis Barber and Chioke Coreathers, are youthful and energetic. They run about the stage and adroitly portray all the qualities of young boys that are busting with life.
At the performance I attended Mark B. Robbins played Uncle George. The stoic, silent man also seemed to be a family-friendly dose of pioneer hardships. His silence represented the struggles he had endured, while his harmonica playing and inclusion in the events showcased the kindness, sympathy, and fellowship that has made the Ingalls family a favorite of so many in both real life and the mostly factual literary representations of them.
Sound Design by Chris Bakos is aptly atmospheric. The preshow music sets the tone for the time period. The thunder in first act is nicely startling; however, the best aspect of the thunder is that it continues during the 15-minute intermission, which ultimately and cleverly signifies that the rains did not let up in between the acts.
Ryan McGettigan's set design is beautifully realized. Structurally it showcases the important, load bearing beams of the Ingalls house and lets the imagination fill in the rest. He has also elevated the back portion of the stage, which allows for some nice portraits to occur.
Macy Perrone has beautifully costumed the cast in true to time period fashions. The Ingalls family has wonderfully functional clothing choices that perfectly illustrate how farming men and women dressed. The clothing choices for the Oleson's are distinctly different, showcasing how clothing for people who lived in town did not have to be as functional and could be more ornate.
Frank Vela's lighting design is simplistic, keeping the action bathed in warm lighting. The nicest of the more specialized effects are the strobe-like flashing of the lights for lightening and the shifts in color on the back wall mural to adequately show the passing of time.
A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS is a nice, heartwarming reminder of why we celebrate the Christmas season. The show showcases how important charity and humanity are. Moreover, the Ingalls family only had each other and the simple things in life, which reminds audiences to put the electronics down and really bask in each other's personal radiance.
A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS runs at Main Street Theater-Chelsea Market through December 22, 2012. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.mainstreettheater.com/ or call (713) 524 – 6706.Photos by Kaitlyn Walker.