The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut,& the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree
By William Gibson
Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner
Music Direction by Laura Van Duzer
Produced by Rep Stage
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
If you have grown weary of the standard holiday fare, Rep Stage has a treat for you with this skewed but entertaining variation on the nativity story. The Butterfingers Angel is an offbeat work by the late playwright William Gibson (best known for The Miracle Worker) that weaves together short scenes and a dozen classic Christmas carols in a piece that he dubbed “A Christmas Entertainment.” The foundation of the story is that God entrusts a bumbling young Angel (played with convincing awkwardness by Travis Hudson) to communicate and oversee God’s plan for Joseph and Mary to have the baby Jesus.
Lauren Williams gives a charming performance as a spunky young Mary who has no interest in men generally and particularly Joseph, a much older admirer. Mary’s feelings are easy to understand once we hear about the behavior of her 18 brothers. Mary wants to go to Jerusalem and makes something of herself instead of being just another breeding cow.
Soon Mary changes her mind and becomes willing to marry Joseph, who is initially bewildered by her change of heart. Joseph is jealous of the Angel, who he suspects may be the father of Mary’s child. Dan Manning’s Joseph blusters powerfully at times, but also reveals his insecurities about whether he is truly the good man that Mary has chosen to raise her child.
To create obstacles for the couple we have Timothy Andrés Pabon, who delivers a powerful and charismatic presence as both the Man in Grey (presumably the Devil) as well as a childishly psychopathic King Herod. He conspires to prevent a crucial foreshadowed miracle involving a sassy and selfish cherry tree (Dawn Ursula).
Director Lee Mikeska Gardner does a fine job maximizing the many elements in Gibson’s work, including some cute talking animals, a talented children’s ensemble, and a large overall cast. She keeps the action joyful and lively as her cast pull off several amusing bits of comic business. The audience’s attention is also drawn to the characters thanks to some visually appealing outfits courtesy of Costume Designer Emily Mason..
Both the action and the scene changes often feature a holiday song appropriate to the situation or the sentiment (e.g., “We Three Kings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Away in a Manger,” to name a few). The ensemble, aided by a couple of guitar players, provides some lovely sequences with the help of Music Director Laura Van Duzer.
Overall, The Butterfingers Angel is a mish-mash that contains both serious themes and farce, but is accessible to a diverse audience. While the characters are often broadly drawn, the leads show inner doubts that give meaning to the story. The comedy comes from a variety of sources that can appeal to both children and adults, though not necessarily at the same time. The tone runs the gamut from irreverent to touching and the tale ultimately ends with a hopeful climax of sacrifice.
As a final note to parents, Rep Stage advises that The Butterfingers Angel is appropriate for those 8 or 9 years old and up. Given the length, some mature themes, mild profanity, and a disturbing sequence discussing the source of Herod’s drums, I might bump up that minimum by a year or two, but it’s your call.
Running Time: 2:10 (one intermission)
Where: Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD
When: Until January 4, 2009. Wed and Thurs at 7:30 PM, Fri and Sat at 8 PM, and Sat and Sun matinees at 2:30 PM
Tickets: $15-$30 (PWYC Wednesdays). Call 410-772-4900 or tickets can be purchased through the website