Prairie girls are in the house and will steal your heart in the Adventure Theatre/MTC production of A Little House Christmas.
The simple story and quiet style balance today’s frenetic pace. At the onset, the family struggles to fetch water into the house with the sisters wondering if big city houses really have water that flows from inside spigots! The production is filled with simple nuggets of goodness like that throughout.
Laura and Mary Ingalls help their Ma in the kitchen, do their chores and dress in their Sunday clothes for a gracious dinner which means finding a way to include and be nice to the mean-spirited and snooty Nellie. The girls see the lesson that prairie families rely on each other, whether well-to-do or threadbare—everybody has something to contribute. When the raging storm keeps Pa from securing the gifts he intended, the girls demonstrate they’ve internalized the lessons of inner fortitude and good will and keep the spirit of Christmas alive.
As Laura Ingalls, Katie Littleton is a charmer, balancing a sweet appeal with charming good will wrapped in a mischievous grin. She scoots about in her cotton gingham dress and unraveling pigtails ready to explore, patch things up, and tease her older sister Mary, played with loving patience by Maya Brettell.
Caroline Coleman plays the frosty Nellie Oleson in a nicely nuanced performance, sporting her fur trimmed muff and velveteen coat like royalty, deriding the sisters at every opportunity while probably secretly envious of their sisterly bond. The trio of talented youngsters brings the story to life with energetic enthusiasm.
The girls bring a reservoir of understanding about the characters they represent, and stay in command at every moment, experiencing the twists and turns in the scenes as if for the first time. Nothing seems forced, mechanical or contrived. Bringing such artistry to the stage at their tender ages takes a combination of raw talent, great training and terrific direction, in this case by Serge Seiden, who brought similar warmth and depth when he directed the Helen Hayes Award winning Charlotte’s Web, also at Adventure Stage. Seiden’s touch helps the story unfold with the gentle sweetness that glows like a lantern on a frosty day.
The high achieving adults are just as effective. Hyla Matthews and Robbie Gay are rock solid in their portrayals of Ma and Pa Ingalls, as loving, sturdy prairie stock who can face down the tribulations of a sometimes harsh and brutal land. As Ma, Matthews presents a homespun grace while Gay as Pa is a perfect stand-in for Michael Landon, complete with playful expressions, mannerisms and charm, perfect for animated and delightful storytelling. Ma and Pa serve as the foundation for the family as well as the community. Jonathan Feuer as Uncle George carries the emotional battle scars of the Civil War in his wounded expressions and muted silence, and Mr. Edwards is played by the irrepressible Danny Pushkin whose energy lights the final scene with a Santa-like flair.
A Little House Christmas
Closes December 31, 2012
Glen Echo Park
7300 MacArthur Blvd
Glen Echo, MD
50 minutes with no intermission
In an unexpected credit, Seiden choreographed the lively scene-stealing country dance, upbeat and energetic enough to keep everybody’s toes tapping in rhythm – terrific violin performance by Jamie Sandel. Just when everyone seems lost in the excitement and fun, here comes Laura trying to include her Uncle George in the festivities. What follows is one of the most heart-warming sequences on the stage.
Producing Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt has another prize winner in this holiday treasure and treat. A Little House Christmas shows how the true spirit of Christmas is in giving and caring for those around us. The stories have grown stronger through generations because the core premise is timeless. And in this digital age of immediate gratification and electronic lists to Santa, the stories are needed now more than ever.
A Little House Christmas . Based on the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder . Adapted by James DeVita . Directed by Serge Seiden . Featuring Robbie Gay, Hyla Matthews, Stephanie Svec, Danny Pushkin, Jonathan Feuer Katie Littleton, Maya Brettell, Caroline Coleman. Assistant Director: Jacob Jansen, Set Designer: Jake K. Ewonus, Costume Designer: Kelsey Hunt, Properties Designer: Andrea “Dre” Moore, Lighting Designer: Sarah Tundermann, Sound Designer: Kenny Neal, Asst. Stage Manager/Production Associate: Julie Roedersheimer, Scenic Artist: Sasha Goldstein, Master Electrician: Sarah MacKowski. Produced by Adventure Theatre/MTC. Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson