Well on its way now to becoming an annual Falls Church Christmas tradition, the Creative Cauldron’s production of Christmas Cabin of Carnaween opened last weekend at ArtSpace Falls Church where it will be playing through December 23. Based on an Irish folk tale, this short, warm-hearted little production was developed as a play with music by the Creative Cauldron team itself.
The tale at the heart of the production resembles, in a way, the story line of the much better known Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which an upright, hardworking, but otherwise undistinguished businessman is rewarded for his goodness and honesty with a heavenly miracle right when it’s needed most.
So, too, in Christmas Cabin, set in a mythical small town in the lonely northwest of Ireland. Its central character is Oona Hegarty whom we first see as a tiny baby abandoned on the doorstep of the Hegarty family and adopted by them.
Good-hearted and generous to a fault, Oona becomes part of the Hegarty family and is well-respected by the townspeople as well. But never quite. She’s known to have been the natural child of Irish “travelers” or “tinkers” (gypsies). As a result, when her step-parents pass on, she becomes a wanderer herself, living with, working for, but never becoming part of a succession of families over many years.
When the great Irish Famine strikes, she can’t even count on the townsfolk any longer and finds herself homeless in the midst of a cruel famine winter. In spite of a lifetime of good works, it looks like the end for Oona. But we’ll say no more.
Christmas Cabin is a short, simple production that will appeal to individuals and family members of all ages who’d like to remember or be reminded that the spirit of the Christmas season has more to do with the message put out by a dedicated Salvation Army bell-ringer than it does with mass-consumption at Tyson’s Galleria.
Driven gently ahead by excellent storytelling, folksy singing, and surprisingly good Irish-style dancing in a tiny space, this little production does the job explaining the reason for the season. It’s a simple, welcome respite from the consumer-driven madness this time of year has become.
Though this little company is likely on a limited budget, Christmas Cabin benefits immensely from the beautiful though understated stonework stage donated by and constructed by a local firm that specializes in such work. It’s quite evocative of rocky, mountainous County Donegal, the location where the play is likely set.
The ensemble—a combination of locals and more experienced thespians—works well together with most playing a variety of characters but playing them convincingly. The obvious star of the show is Katie Culligan who plays Oona Hegarty, the story’s central character and driving force. Winsome and warm, she’s an excellent dancer and a good vocalist as well, and seems a natural for the part.
Christmas Cabin of Carnaween
Closes December 23, 2012
ArtSpace Falls Church
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
1 hour without intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
She’s helped considerably by her supporting cast—Judy Butler, Penelope Fleming, Jim Lynch, and Denise Perrino—who act interchangeably as storytellers while also playing a considerable number of characters.
Since this play is set in Ireland, it’s not surprising that young people figure prominently. Numerous youthful characters are believably portrayed by Charlie Adams, Colter Adams, Libby Brooke, Anna Brotman-Krass, and Arwyn Fleming.
An Irish play wouldn’t be an Irish play without Irish music which, in this production, is enthusiastically supplied by Magh Meall (Irish translation: Plain of Joy), a trio that includes fiddler Mary Wilkerson; guitarist Brogan Latil; and Rosemary Gano who alternates between the flute and the Irish tin whistle.
The entire affair is directed by Laura Connors Hull whose light but steady hand helps bring out the nostalgic yet believable atmosphere that an intimate little show like this demands.
Christmas Cabin of Carnaween . Directed by Laura Connors Hull . Choreographer: Stephen Gregory Smith . Music: “Magh Meall” Trio . Produced by Creative Cauldron. Reviewed by Terry Ponick.
Julia L. Exline .DCMetroTheaterArts