By Shelli Park
When you need a quality, local distraction from the stress of the holidays, and, possibly, family, Burien Actors Theatre offers up the perfect antidote – BAT’s 2019 holiday production, ‘The Christmas Spirit,’ written by Frederick Stroppel, is the perfect mix of humor and truth.
And if you haven’t made it to a BAT show, but have always meant to, now would be the time. BAT may have to take a prolonged break if a new space isn’t located for them by the end of January 2020 (read our previous coverage here).
BAT has been so fortunate to have the talented set designer, Albie Clementi, create their sets for so many years. This production is no exception. The set design is lovely, complete with wood paneling and a set of stairs. The front door opens to the outdoors extending the play action in a realistic way. The flavor of the play is captured through the pallette, which is warm but muted, comfortable but slightly worn. Cyndi Baumgardner brings cohesion to the stage with well thought out, and placed, props.
Julia Dowling is a woman spending Christmas Eve alone. We find her reading in her chair, listening to the radio. It is around 1 AM and Julia heads upstairs, turning off the radio, and as she ascends the stairs, turns to ‘clap’ off the Christmas tree lights. They come back on. She ‘claps’ them off, and, again, they come back on. Julia, confused, comes back down the stairs to try to figure out the problem. Fog rolls out from around the tree and a man in a long, semi-religious robe steps out from behind the tree. As Julia comes to find out, this is Death. Death has come for her this very night.
What ensues is a well-written, comedy-filled 16-hour (in play time) journey to trick Death out of taking Julia, and Julia’s journey to make peace, or attempt to, with her family.
Pat Haines-Ainsworth plays Julia, and is magnificent. She nails the full range of emotions called for in her role. Julia must make Death believe in her Christmas merriment and healthy family life, while processing her fear of death without panicing, and trying to resolve life.
Death is played by Phillip Keiman. Keiman is a wonderful Death, if Death can be wonderful. I mean, Death isn’t a bad guy. He’s just doing his job. And with a wicked, dry sense of humor to boot. Death is looking to improve and find out what being human is all about. What better way than to participate in the most joyous time of year? Keiman delivers wisdom alongside the humor in a grounded, reassuring way. And who knew that Death has feelings?
Julia has a grown daughter, Beth (Devin Rodger) who still lives at home. She is not exactly content with life. Stuck, even. Rodger’s performance is a solid counterpoint to Haines-Ainsworth’s. While Julia can be on the edge of hysterical, Beth is measured and cautious, taking care, but still frustrated with life.
Julia must bring family together to create the Christmas celebration that she promised Death. She has a barely-willing-to-participate, bitter sister, Rosemary, played by Dawn Brazel. Rosemary arrives to the party with her sweet, but slightly clueless, alcoholic husband, Bernie (Dale Bowers). Brazel and Bowers could have a show of their own. They remind me of an old comedy duo I listened to on a record as a child, The Bickersons, with roles reversed. They are hilarious.
Julia’s son Paul shows up with a new girlfriend, Melissa. Marc “Mok” Moser plays Paul, a musician with a knack for writing songs. He brings his keyboard and entertains the family. Moser’s performance is great! He has a solid voice and wonderful presence. His character is endearing.
Melissa is brought to life by Kpojo Kparyea. She is a sweet girl. She has complications, but she also has a lot of depth, and dreams. Kparyea has a lovely voice. She sings while playing the ukelele. She draws us into her world with ease.
Before Death shows up to the party, Father John (Eric Harley) shows up and Julia brings him in on the secret of Death, as her spiritual guide co-conspirator. Harley plays a great priest. He creates a character who is grounded in his humanity, but carries an elevated air of responsibility for his parishioners.
When Death finally arrives at the party he brings with him a recently collected (read dead) guest, Matthew (Chap Wolff), who is less than thrilled to be there. Matthew would like to be moving on with his normally scheduled journey to the Otherworld. Wolff’s transition from a very convincing just-dead person, to a young man in love is enacted with an amazing, gradual subtlety. A really fine performance as an ancillary character.
There are surprise twists and turns, confessions and realizations, moving moments and moments of great comedy. These are complex characters, as we all are.
Taylor Davis directs this production. Her stage direction and handling of dialogue bring the strong performances into alignment.
There were lovely lighting moments designed by Dave Baldwin. The costuming, by Jae Hee Kim, is spot on. And what would a production be without Eric Dickman’s Sound Design? Dickman always knows how to heighten the performance with well-placed music and effects.
I encourage you to take advantage of this strong, local Holiday production at Burien Actors Theatre. It will bring you laughter and food for thought in a delightful, and much needed, way. Join in The Christmas Spirit.
Here’s the remaining schedule, for what will likely be BAT’s last production in this location:
TICKETS & $5 OFF COUPON
Ticket prices range from $7 to $25. Student tickets are $10. Enjoy opening weekend deals: Tickets on opening night, Nov. 29, include free admission to the opening night party. Only on Saturday, Nov. 30, which is BAT’s Lucky 13 Saturday, all tickets are just $13. Only on Sunday, Dec. 1, which is BAT’s Seven Buck Sunday, admission is just $7.
For tickets, special deals or other information, go to www.burienactorstheatre.org or call 206-242-5180.
Click this exclusive Coupon below, then Print to Save $5 Off:
The Christmas Spirit is sponsored by 4Culture and Pickled & Preserved.
Photos courtesy Michael Brunk: