Based ever so loosely on the famous poem of the same name, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas is the story of the Sheldon family, eagerly waiting for Christmas Eve to pass so that Christmas morning can just be here already! David and Margaret Sheldon (Carl Bentley and Anna Seibert) make lists, run errands and tidy up while their children Elizabeth, Timothy and Virginia (Danielle Wright, Colin Mallory, and Brittany Loren Michael) squabble and decorate and carefully inspect gifts. Eventually crabby old Great Aunt Winifred (Janelle Soulliere) arrives, and everyone goes to bed, except David, who stays up to work on his new story: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Of course, in the second act, Santa and many of his minions arrive, make merry, and eventually continue on their way.
The main problem with this production is definitely Michele L. Vacca's lackluster script. Though there is great affection for the holiday and traditions written into it, frankly, there is no story. There is no dramatic conflict. Nothing really happens. Director Andrew Papa has very little material to work with, but he and his cast work valiantly to force some life into the generally rather uninteresting words. The staging and flow of the show are a little weak, but the character development is clearly where this crew put the bulk of their focus. Carl Bentley is sincere and warm as the patriarch of the Sheldon clan, and Anna Seibert is sweet (if a little bland) as the mother. Danielle Wright and Colin Mallory have great energy as the two eldest children. Janelle Soulliere manages to earn some pretty solid laughs with her Ebenezer-esque Aunt Winifred. But the real star of the family is definitely Brittany Loren Michael, who does not play at being a young child, she BECOMES a young child, throwing herself whole-heartedly into the awe and anticipation of Christmas. The second act brings on a little bit more charm - if not more of a story - and Jacob Boida is appropriately jolly as the man in red, who basically shepherds the play from there on out. His toy companions are interesting characters, and frankly, I would have liked to see a play just about them! Shannon Hurst as Miss Jane has an unassuming sweetness and vulnerability that makes her all but impossible to look away from. Taylor Morrow is a riot as the fiery La Bella Isabella, taking full advantage of her running gags and her gorgeous ensemble. Her counterpart Matt Miazgowicz as Boris Gudonov is very funny in all of his smitten, Russian glory. Colin Mallory is a little forced as Patches the Clown, but his movement work in particular is an awful lot of fun. And Danielle Wright is graceful and delicate as the ballerina Lady Anna... though Vacca never really explains the mystery that she clumsily plants around this character.
Fred Florkowski's lovely but ultimately unimaginative scenic design provides little opportunity for variety in staging. Tom Schraeder's lighting design is fine, but unremarkable. Though the magic surrounding the tree definitely earned some Oohs and Aaahs for their joint effort (and I'm sure Properties Master Michael Sabourin deserves some credit for that as well). Clare Hungate-Hawk's costumes are absolutely gorgeous, placing the characters firmly in time and place, and sprinkling in the appropriate whimsy to Santa and his little pals.
This is a tough play to review, because the work done by the actors is generally so good, especially considering the low quality of the work done by their playwright. But I will say this: if you can bring a little kid with you to this show, absolutely do it. There were only a few children in my audience, but the ones who were there didn't care that there wasn't really a plot, or that characters came and went through the same door without acknowledging each other, or that there was a little too much lag before this or that sound cue. They saw a Christmas tree, and toys come to life, and SANTA SANTA SANTA! Indeed, some of the greatest moments of the show came from the kids in the audience ("Look! It's Santa!!"). So if you're a couple of grown-ups out for a spot of Christmas culture, maybe look elsewhere. But if you've got some kids who could do with a little boost in their Believe-in-Santa-o-meter... then bring 'em on down to The Bonstelle. Because THEY are the reason those actors are up there, giving it their all!
'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Michele L. Vacca (Director: Andrew Papa) continues at The Bonstelle Theatre through Sunday, December 8. Tickets range from $10-$20. For more information, visit http://theatre.wayne.edu/ourshows.php