The gist of every play with a Christmas theme or a yuletide setting is finding the real meaning of Christmas. This is true whether the central character is saintly or suicidal. This is true even if there is a grinchy, scroogey villain intent on breaking hearts and stealing presents. This is true whether the tone of the play is sincere or sarcastic. No matter where the show starts, or how long it takes, by the time we leave the warmth of the theater for the cold of the street, we are imbued with the real meaning of Christmas.
This is certainly the case with Theatre Of Youth’s holiday offering, A Little House Christmas, adapted by James DeVita and inspired by the “Little House” series of books. One hundred fifty years ago, Laura Ingalls lived with her parents and sisters in the now famous little house… actually, a series of little houses… some in big woods, some on the prairie, others on the shores of creeks or rivers as her parents pioneered the U.S. Midwest, from Wisconsin to Kansas and beyond.
A Little House Christmas is derived from stories from when the Ingallses lived on the prairie in Kansas. Devoted fans of Ingalls stories, and young audiences being introduced to them with this play, will appreciate the simplicity of the story and the careful, deliberate pacing allowing even young audiences to take in every detail.
The Ingalls have not yet lived long as this Christmas approaches. It has been a long, wet, cold season and, just a week before Christmas, the family breaks the gloom by hosting a holiday party for family and friends. The invitation list includes Little House characters well known to us… Mrs. Olson and her daughter Nellie, the rambunctious but neighborly Mr. Edwards, and so on.
After a fine meal and singing and dancing, and after the guests are safely on their way home, the nearby creek rises and crests and prevents anyone from crossing. If Pa Ingalls cannot even make it into town for supplies at the store, then how will Santa ever possibly find the Ingalls girls?
The story does not stint on the harsher aspects of life on the prairie. Sometimes food is scarce. Sometimes the entire storage of gathered firewood is too wet to burn. Conversely, the stories also show the resourcefulness and determination of prairie dwellers in matters of settling there happily.
When things seem at their worst, Ma Ingalls responds to concerns and complaints from her daughters that with no snow, no gifts and no Santa this hardly seems like Christmas. Wise, practical Ma reminds them, “”We’re the only ones who can make it feel like Christmas.” This is the lesson that Laura and Mary learn to bring the play to its warm and happy ending, and certainly the moral young audiences of the show will carry away with them.
This is a lovely production of a script that TOY has presented every few years, alternating with other seasonal shows. The little house set used will be as familiar to TOY audiences as their own homes. The performances are charming. Justine Rodriguez (as Laura) and Kaila Rose Proulx (as Mary) are particularly effective and sisterly. Despite their youth, both are seasoned actresses. Ms. Proulx appeared as Laura in the previous staging of this title in 2006. Their presence on stage engages a “like-me” sympathy amongst children in the audiences and draws them into the story. Guy Balotine and Beth Donahue display the practicality needed to survive in a wilderness home and the warmth to sustain a family of daughters.
Who might like A Little House Christmas : With lights and decorations in streetlights of Allentown, these city sidewalks are beginning to look a lot like Christmas (to combine a holiday song or three). For families looking for Christmas show that is not dripping with tinsel and still… yes… is based upon understanding the real meaning of Christmas a visit to Theatre Of Youth this year might be in order.
A Little House Christmas (through December 19) starring Guy Balotine, Beth Donohue, Justine Rodriguez, Kaila Rose Proulx, Roger Keicher, Tim Newell, Christina Rausa, Morgan Parnitzke and Kareem Haq in an adaptation by James DeVita of stories by Laura Laura Ingalls Wilder. Directed by Meg Quinn for Theatre Of Youth, at Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street; www.theatreofyouth.com or (716) 884-4400.
Photo: INGALLS’ BELLES : The women of the Little House family get ready for Christmas Kaila Rose Proulx (as Mary), Beth Donohue (as Ma) and Justine Rodriguez (as Laura).
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