The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by the Synetic Theater teen ensemble is something that the kids in the audience certainly seemed to enjoy. It may not have been the “best…ever” in the youthful parlance of the title, but they could certainly connect with the exuberance of the movement on stage and could certainly recognize the family of raucous, misbehaving bullies at the center of the story.
The Herdmans, in the play adapted from the 1971 book by Barbara Robinson, are a kind of pestilence on the local school. They are the kind of Old English scamps you might see in a Dickens work, stealing lunch money, knocking over kids, wreaking a path of destruction wherever they go.
Therefore, it’s a little disconcerting when they all decide to take part in the local Christmas Pageant, motivated mostly by the free cookies that come afterwards. It’s upsetting to the calm, well-spoken central character Beth Bradley, played by Madeline Osborn, but it’s doubly deviling to her mother (Karyn-Siobhan Robinson) who has to direct the play for the first time.
The mother gets all kinds advice on how to stage the pageant from the biddy who ran it for years but is unable to do so this year, and from just about every other opinionated mother. But most of the worries have to do with those raucous Herdmans.
In reality, any church group would be overjoyed to bring in such a family of lost sheep. They’d be anxious to get them involved in their big annual production; but not so much here.
At any rate, it’s a good time to have the whole story of Christmas explained to them for the first time, adding an underpinning to what they are about to act out.
… the kids in the audience certainly seemed to enjoy it.
In an introduction to the piece in the opening performance Saturday afternoon, the audience was asked to pay special attention to its movement, a central focus at Synetic. It was hard to get away from that; it seemed like the cast was in motion the whole time, striking poses so exaggerated that it almost started to approach kabuki.
Some scenes in the play directed by Elena Velasco were entirely told in motion, to the recorded seasonal music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller. It helped that the stage design by Nick O’Leary allowed for characters to emerge at the top of the set as if they were popping out of chimneys. Though the projections had their glitches in the opening performance, they were an inventive way to help tell the story.
More impressive in the first performance was the work of Sarah Kent, a last minute replacement for an ill student. As the smart-aleck little brother Charlie, she was one of the highlights in the cast.
There are problems with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever that only a Humbug would point out. Chief among them is a group of hooligans who actually look more like adorable young dance/acting students.
But nobody at the opening performance was complaining. Indeed, just about every group there seemed to be wielding literal bouquets, one bigger than the next, for their family’s personal stage star. I’m not sure that adults without family connections, however, are required to attend.
Running time: One hour, no intermission.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs through Dec. 27 at the Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington, VA. Information here.