The Hub Theatre adds a new production to the canon of Christmas stories with its world premiere of Anne M. McGraw’s Peekaboo! A Nativity Play. Described as a “heartfelt farce” with music, the approach is fresh and the story is endearing, if uneven.
Biblical stories frequently inspire adaptations which are well-meaning, reverential, but well, a little dull. Playwright Anne M. McGraw opts to approach this familiar story from a totally different direction with contemporary language and farcical characters to dramatize the story of the birth of Jesus.
The story begins with Gabriel (Anderson Wells) and other angels trying to wake up Mary. She is told more than once that “this ain’t no dream.”
When Mary (Katie Jeffries Zelonka) learns she is now bearing the Son of God, her stunned reaction is “For real? Take it back!” This young Mary is not ready for the miraculous event. Ditto her devoted but awkward steady boyfriend Joseph (Robert Bowen Smith).
Joseph is incredulous about how Mary came to be “knocked up.” Mary runs away to stay with her understanding Auntie Eliza (Rose McConnell) and try to face the situation. You see, Mary had wanted to travel, maybe play in a band before settling down, so her initial view of the pregnancy is that it “sucks.”
The spunky young Mary faces the additional challenge of travel as part of a census ordered by a jealous and fearful Herod, who has heard the prophecies about the baby Jesus. Herod (Jacob Yeh) orders around his henchmen with the attitude and exaggerated accent of a cartoonish Mafia boss.
Christmas songs (Away in a Manger, What Child Is This, and Go, Tell it on the Mountain are a few) are given beautiful original arrangements by Jonathan Feuer mostly for acoustic guitar that are much more pleasing that the new lyrics.
Peekaboo! A Nativity Play
closes December 24, 2017
Details and tickets
All actors except Zelonka play several roles. Sophie Schulman, who is most notable as the famous Drummer Boy, rounds out a talented cast. Katie Jeffries Zelonka as Mary is especially skillful at balancing the demands of a conflicted character and a story with sharp changes in tone.
When a story is presented in a farcical manner, the challenge is find enough humor to compensate for the broad and unsubtle characterizations. The slangy dialogue grows less amusing after a while. Despite references to everything from Of Mice and Men to the Beatles and a few nice visual gags, the script is not consistently entertaining despite the best comic efforts of the cast, especially Robert Bowen Smith as the often confused and comically inarticulate Joseph.
The more heartfelt moments work much better. Director Helen R. Murray brings a skillful touch to the interactions of the young couple, the benevolent protection offered by Gabriel (given a nice and powerful presence by Anderson Wells), and the effect of the baby Jesus on others. Yet just when the story appears to be reaching a sweet climax, the mood is broken by a broad and unnecessary fight scene before the story is summed up in a less than subtle manner.
While the production aspects of Peekaboo! A Nativity Play are polished, the story itself feels unpolished. The pre-show reveal of the actors getting ready adds to a “hey, let’s put on a show” vibe that accents this sensation, even though the strolling guitars and singing are highlights of the production. Audiences interested in a fresh Christmas story may find Peekaboo! A Nativity Play worth a trip to The Hub Theatre, but additional work may be needed for the play to have a lasting theatrical life.
Peekaboo! A Nativity Play by Anne M. McCaw. Directed by Helen R. Murray. Music Direction and Original Arrangements by Jonathan Feuer. Featuring Katie Jeffries Zelonka, Anderson Wells, Robert Bowen Smith, Jacob Yeh, Rose McConnell, and Sophie Schulman. Stage Manager: Aria Velz. Scenic Design: Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Lighting Design: Mary Keegan. Costume Design: Amy MacDonald. Props Design: Amy Kellett. Assistant Director. Kirsten Grorud. Presented by The Hub Theatre. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.