Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
It is fifteen years since Open Eye Figure Theater first presented The Holiday Pageant, which was written, directed and designed by resident artist Michael Sommers. Since then, this little gem of a holiday show has been recognized with an Ivey Award for Overall Production. This year's remount brings back the original cast, who appear to have as much fun revisiting the show as the audience has watching it.
Open Eye Figure Theatre's narrow auditorium and cramped stage are a perfect home for The Holiday Pageant. The abundance of color, texture, and wit in the stage costumes and properties so tightly packed that the stage seems about to burst with joy, while the closely spaced seating creates a pleasing sense of community among audience members. Somehow squeezed into the small space beside the stage, a chorus, dubbed The Celestial Choir, adds musical voice in brief choral pieces and in underscoring. They are accompanied by violin, trumpet, trombone, accordion and pump organ.
The play begins with Father Winter, sporting a twisted white beard reaching down to his knees, welcoming us and invoking the players to offer their story upon the stage. We meet Teufel, a lowly but dedicated devil in service to Lucifer, who relates the way in which Lucifer brought down the first man and woman, using delightful Adam, Eve, and serpent puppets. However, Lucifer is dismayed that the current crop of mankind is of such low quality, there is little for him to do in the way of reducing their moral stature. With Teufel's encouragement, Lucifer prevails upon God to "give mankind a spark to enlighten his lost soul." God (whose mysterious pronouncements are issued in the form of blaring trombone blasts) calls on the angel Matin to put a plan into place. This plan requires a search over mountain, desert and sea for a virgin. When the one named Mary, wife of Joseph, is found, the plan moves forward, much to Mary'sand Joseph'sgreat surprise, as they journey, with the aid of puppetry, to Bethlehem.
A trio of shepherdslumbering Tud, flustered Mak, and a shepherd boy, along with an adorable sheep named Flopsieare alerted by a bright star of the birth of a wondrous child. They journey forth bearing gifts for the child, though not the gifts you may have had in mind. It is all presented with a light and loving heart, sparkling wit, and great affection for the idea of miracles infiltrating our rational lives. Never cynical, The Holiday Pageant offers an innocent renewal of faith, though leaves open the door as to where that faith may lead, so that it is an inclusive and affirming event.
The cast is more than up to the task at hand, and have a grand time performing it. Luverne Seifert dull-witted Tud is a delight, and Kevin Kling's boyish and earnest Joseph a joy. Liz Schachterle, as Mary, manages a hilarious depiction of immaculate conception within the constraints of good taste, and Sarah Agnew slyly portrays the angel Matin and devil Teufel as two sides of the same striving coin.
As noted, Susan Haas' costume designs are elaborate bursts of color and texture, while Michael Sommers has designed settings of arches and passageways that make the most ingenious use of the very limited space that, with Michael Murnane's exquisite lighting, creates a feel of antiquity and a sense of wonder. Victor Zupanc's musical compositions weave joy and mystery throughout the pageant.
The Holiday Pageant is a work of theater to be seen and embraced, more than to be written about. With the cast that so lovingly originated this piece back in place, it is bright entertainment that upholds the spirit and finds meaning in the holiday season.
The Holiday Pageant continues at the Open Eye Figure Theatre through December 22, 2015. 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets are $25.00 general admission, $22.00 age 65+, $15.00 for students, $12.00 for children 12 and under. For tickets and information go to openeyetheatre.org or call 612-874-6338.
Written, Directed and Designed by: Michael Sommers; Composer: Victor Zupanc; Light Design: Michael Murnane; Costume Design: Susan Haas; Technical Director: Brandon Sisneroz; Assistant Lighting Designer: Darren Hensel; Stage Manager: Emily Ankeny
Cast: Sarah Agnew (Teufel and Matin), Kevin Kling (Joseph and Shepherd Mak), Noah Ophoven-Baldwin (Gabriel), Liz Schachterle (Mary), Luverne Seifert (Tud), Michael Sommers (Lucifer), Noah Sommers-Haas (Shepherd Boy), Marin Ward (Father Winter).