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(Updated) Youthful Players make classic 'Pageant' their own PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Arts & Entertainment Editor   
Thursday, 12 December 2013 11:03
The Bradleys played by Lane Hakel and Stephanie Truman plot strategy for the church Christmas pageant in the Black Swamp Players' "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is the Midwest's great addition to Christmas literature.
The book by Barbara Robinson, an Ohio native, manages to spin a humorous and in the end touching story from the most well-worn material by telling a story about a family of miscreants who make the Christmas story come to life for their complacent neighbors.
The Black Swamp Players will bring "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," adapted by Robinson,  to the stage today, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. with a matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Bowling Green. Tickets are $12 and $10 for students and seniors.
The Players get an infusion of new talent in this production directed by Guy and Janet Zimmerman.  The cast of youngsters and  adults helps make this staple of the season their own.
The host of kids aren't the only new faces here. Stephanie Truman plays the much put-upon mother Grace Bradley who is pressed into service to direct the church's Christmas pageant after the domineering church do-it-all Helen Armstrong (Becky Hansen) breaks her leg. Truman brings a sense of style to the role, even as she has to herd the rambunctious Herdmans.
And from their first appearance the sextet of Herdmans make clear they're an intimidating bunch. Imogene (Maddy Palmer), Ralph (Andrew Wise), Leroy (Trevor Gill-Snow), Ollie (Nataleigh Hartman),  Claude (Sabrina Ramos) and the tiny and mighty Gladys (Calista Wilkins) have a well-earned reputation for troublemaking.They steal lunches, threaten, punch and bite. They even set fire to a shed and then made off with the doughnuts meant for the firefighters.
"The Herdmans were the worst kids in the entire history of the world," narrator and Grace's daughter Beth Bradley (Johanna Slembarski) informs us.
The nativity scene during the Black Swamp Players' "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," which opens tonight and continues through Sunday.
For Beth's little brother Charlie (Bob Walters) church is his refuge from them until he lets it slip that they get sweets at Sunday school. The Herdmans invade the church in a haze of curses and cigar smoke and  much to the horror of Mrs. Armstrong and the other church ladies take over the  Christmas pageant.
Beth's exasperated narration knits together the comic tale about how the Herdmans transform the pageant for the better.
Beth and the snotty Alice Wendelken (Mackenzie Fleshman) play well off each other. Beth reflects her mother's more open attitude and Alice reflects the rigidity of so many of her elders.
An angel chorus  of 4- and 5-year-olds - Emy Wilkins, Aubrey Hartman, Janie Lehtsen,  EvyAnne Menseh, Liam Rogel, Jonah Truman and Alice Walters  - pretty much steals the show just by being themselves. It's clear watching them what they were told to do, and it's clear they really are trying to do it, at least when not distracted by another angel's wing, or a drooping halo or the child fidgeting next to them.
Lane Hakel as the Bradley father serves as a stabilizing influence here. He'd like to just stay home on Christmas Eve in his bathrobe but his robe is otherwise occupied as a pageant costume. So he does his part with his wry wit offering the first hints that maybe the pageant needs to be shaken up.
The entire production  with its cast of more than 30 has a community feel, not surprising given the number of families involved, including all of the Walters family.
The church basement venue,  Christmas music sung at intermission, the church's holiday bazaar beforehand and cookies for refreshments all contribute to the theatrical magic. As Gladys playing the Angel of the Lord says in greeting the crew of cowed shepherds: "Shazaam!"
Last Updated on Monday, 09 June 2014 15:33

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