The holidays are certainly a time for theatre to tap into the spirit of the season. There is always a chance (or four) to see Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemptive journey of self-discovery, of course. Usually, there are several little girls named Clara dreaming of Sugar Plum Fairies and the Mouse King’s battle with the heroic Nutcracker. Even George Bailey and his Christmas odyssey of a wonderful life is a now a staple of the stage, as well as repeated holiday video viewing.
As much as I love the classic Christmas tales, plays and musicals, it is with great anticipation that I approach a new holiday theatrical offering. Reading that a local theatre will present a never before seen Yuletide tale gives one hope that a new tradition may be on the horizon.
Maryland Ensemble Theatre (MET) in Frederick is presenting just such a new seasonal show, A Revolutionary Christmas. Written by MET ensemble member Reiner Prochaska as a historical, family story, A Revolutionary Christmas is rooted in the background of Frederick County. Taking inspiration from colonial history and exhaustive research from a local landmark, the Schifferstadt farm, Prochaska has invented a German-American family working a farm in the harsh winter of 1778. The historical accuracy is certainly admirable and any theatre presenting new, home-grown work is to be commended for sure.
The play looks wholly authentic, thanks to the details found in the spartan farm house setting recreated through the scenic design of Allison Duvall and the 1700’s era costumes by Julie Herber.
The family patriarch is German immigrant Franz Kober – played as a loving curmudgeon by the playwright. Kober helps his widowed daughter-in-law Glenda – Caitlyn Joy – raise the Kober children. The boy Joahann – Daniel Plunkett – is itching to be a man and get his own axe with which he can do chores. Sister Fiona – Cassidy Hillman – is the inquisitive one who puts up with her brother and barely remembers her late father. We discover the family on Christmas Eve as they prepare their meager meal and put final touches on their decorating and celebrating, 1778-style.
I must warn you: not a lot happens in this play. They talk; they do chores. And it’s Christmas Eve. There is a talk about men’s chores versus women’s work, which they demonstrate. Fiona and Joahann ask their elders about how Christmas was when they grew up; and Glenda and Franz clash about raising the children.
Oh, yes, and one member of the family is missing. Uncle Richard, Franz’s younger son and the brother of Glenda’s deceased husband, is away fighting in the Revolutionary War.
And wouldn’t you know it? Richard – Todd Mazzie – returns to the farm on Christmas Eve, holding a captured Hessian soldier at gunpoint. It seems the fighting gentlemen found each other as they both hid in a remote barn. Richard’s plan is to turn Peter, the German soldier – played with wit and guile by Steve Custer – in as soon as he can, but they have to get through Christmas. The prisoner is a catalyst for some tough family talk and eventual bonding between the flinty Kober menfolk. I think there were hints of a relationship between Richard and Glenda, but it was breezed over so quickly, I am not sure.
A REVOLUTIONARY CHRISTMAS
Closes December 28, 2014
Maryland Ensemble Theatre (MET)
31 W Patrick Street
1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Because it’s a Christmas show, I won’t spoil the heartwarming dénouement where traditions old and new are brought to the farm house. I will admit, a tear or two moistened my eyes as the play came to a close, so there is potential for some holiday magic, even it is not strictly revolutionary.
Since holiday plays are perfect opportunities to introduce children to live theatre, I can report there is nothing objectionable that would keep a parent or grandparent from bringing a young child to A Revolutionary Christmas. It may not offer as great an appeal as a colorful production of The Nutcracker or a spooky Christmas Carol, but for ages 9 and above it would be just fine. The length is certainly palpable, but smaller children may get fidgety.
Director Suzanne Beal has kept things simple with the staging and the actors do a fine enough job with the material. But I couldn’t help but feel the storyline seemed abbreviated at times, with certain elements hinted at then kicked away before they were fully developed. Perhaps if the play develops a little more action or conflict before it is brought back again some other Christmas season, it will hold up a bit more.
NOTE: Chloe Johnson and Wilson Seltzer alternate the roles of Fiona and Joahann with Hillman and Pluckett.
A Revolutionary Christmas by Reiner Prochaska . Directed by Suzanne Beal . Featuring Steve Custer, Caitlyn Joy, Todd Mazzie, Reiner Prochaska, Cassidy Hillman/Chloe Johnson, and Daniel Plunkett/Wilson Seltzer . Set Design: Allison Duvall . Lighting Design: Doug Grove . Costume Design: Julie Herber . Sound Design: Ken Poisson . Dramaturg: Pat Ogden . Stage Manager Giovanni Kavota assisted by Emily Perper . Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
A REVOLUTIONARY CHRISTMAS
Closes Dec 28