Sunday, December 01, 2019

Coney Island Christmas

The theatrical Christmas season is already in full swing and now comes “Coney Island Christmas” by Pulitzer-prize winner Donald Margulies, presented by the Winters Theatre Company, directed by Anita Ahuja. The play, written in 2012, is based on a short story (“The Loudest Voice”) by Grace Paley.

This is a cast of nine adults and 14 children, who play 47 different parts, including, Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghost of Christmas past, Miles Standish, King Herod, a tribe of Indians, the Statue of Liberty and a bearded lady. It’s lots of fun and not nearly as chaotic as it sounds.

Great grandmother Shirley (Gail Finney), trying to convince her great-granddaughter Clara (Amelia Doran) to put down her cell phone, tells her the story of the first school play she was in, in depression-era Brooklyn. The bulk of this production is the story of that play, with Shirley continuing to narrate. She paints a vivid picture of the time, with the smells and sounds she remembers fondly.
Isadora Harris, who receives deserved applause for her solo bow at the end of the show (she is wonderful) plays the young Shirley, a Jewish girl who loves theater and is cast as Jesus in the school Christmas play. She is cast for her loudmouth voice, which she is unafraid to use.

While her father, Mr. Abramowitz (Trent Beeby), a shopkeeper, is proud and supportive of his daughter, her mother (Alexis Velasquez) is appalled that Shirley has been cast to play Jesus in a Christian pageant.

“We let our Shirley play Jesus, then what?” she asks. “She becomes a nun?” (I was waiting for someone to point out to the mother that Jesus was Jewish, but nobody ever does).
The Harris family is well-represented in this cast as, in addition to Isadora, brothers Arlo and Abner are also in the cast. Five-year-old Abner, with a feather in his hair as an Indian, is easily the cutest kid on stage.

The school play is directed by Mr. Hilton (Scott Schwerdtfeger) and Miss Glacé (Cameron Toney) and the play itself is as endearingly inept as you’d expect a grammar school play to be.

Bridget O’Flaherty plays grouchy Mrs. Kornblum, a customer of Mr. Abramowitz’ store. She also joins with Robert Payawal and Jennifer Rutherford as a Christmas caroler.

Rachel Rominger is a proud Statue of Liberty, reciting the Emma Lazarus poem, sadly appropriate at the moment.

Set design and construction by a dozen company members is an ingeniously simple way to create a home, a school, a store and the school interior, with simple fold-out walls. The timeline is set by sale signs for things like chicken at 25 cents a pound or potatoes 20 pounds for 25 cents.

Costumes by Germaine Hupe and other regulars are fine, though I do think Shirley’s bushy beard was too big for her face. It made her unrecognizable and masked even her loud voice.

This is a truly delightful production, like going to your kid’s Christmas play, with the chance to enjoy watching how it comes together.

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