‘Spirit of Christmas’ finds new home
What: “In the Spirit of Christmas”
Where: The Victorian Players, 702 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown
When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Call 330-746-5455.
By Milan Paurich
A co-production of Sam Luptak Jr.‘s Centaur Stage Productions and the Victorian Players, “In the Spirit of Christmas” alights this weekend for a three-performance run. During a recent interview, Luptak discussed the show and how the Vic became involved in his long-time baby.
Q. Could you briefly outline the history of “In the Spirit of Christmas”?
A. “In the Spirit of Christmas” has become an annual event, but this is the first year it’s being staged at the Victorian Players. When the program originated three years ago, it was only for one night at a Struthers church. Last year we presented a program of three one-acts — very similar to this year’s production — and ran for three performances at Columbiana’s Main Street Theatre. We had good attendance and great response, so it was clear there was a market for this type of family-oriented holiday entertainment. When Main Street temporarily closed, “In the Spirit” went looking for a new home, and we found the perfect fit at the Vic. In fact, we’ve already agreed to do the show there again next year.
Q. Most theaters who do Christmas plays stick with the perennials (“A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” etc.), but “In the Spirit” is a potpourri of one-acts. Where did you find the scripts?
A. The standards are being done — and done well — by other theaters. Sometimes, though, audiences want to see something different. We’ve often joked that “In the Spirit” promises two things: no ghosts and no shepherds in bathrobes (laughs).
Finding quality scripts is always a challenge. This year’s show has undergone several transformations over the past couple of months. We were originally scheduled to do four separate one-acts but had to cancel the shortest piece when cast emergencies made it impossible to be ready in time.
Q. Are you directing all three plays?
A. I’m only directing one, although I co-direct a second with Joyce Jones. Our third director is quite significant since it marks the main-stage directing debut of multi- talented 16-year-old Dylan White. Dylan has performed in scores of productions throughout the area since he was very young (“Titanic,” “The Secret Garden,” this fall’s “Our Town,” etc.). In the one-act that Dylan directs, I have the privilege of actually playing a role.
Q. What are the plays about?
A. The first is “The Hillbilly Christmas Carol” and tells the story of Ozark mountaineer Joshua and how his family and neighbors try to restore his Christmas spirit. This one comes awfully close to violating our “no ghosts” rule, but it’s different and funny enough not to be confused with the same old Scrooge fare. It’s a kind of “‘Hee-Haw’ Meets Christmas” (laughs). The second piece (“A Visit from St. Nicholas”) is about Clement Moore writing — and then destroying — “The Night Before Christmas,” and how his children helped rewrite and restore the poem for him. “How Santa Came to the King David,” our final one-act, is a touching tale about a fateful midnight meeting at the center of the Brooklyn Bridge on Christmas Eve and how it changes two lives forever.
Q. Who’s appearing in the show?
A. We have an extraordinary, award-winning cast that includes Denise Sculli, Lisandra Stebner, Dylan White, Grace Offerdahl, Johnny Pecano, Miranda Cannacci, Lindsey Stevens, Sam Horn, Donny Wolford, Vic executive director Marilyn Higgins and Sara Klimenko in what will sadly be her final area performance since she’ll be moving out of state after the holidays. Also, I would be remiss not to mention our stage manager, Dorene White. None of us could do this without her.
Q. You’ve been quite busy this past year (directing the Vic’s “Our Town” and “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure;” and acting in several shows including NCP’s “Mousetrap”). Which discipline do you prefer; or does it change according to the material?
A. I guess the simple answer is that I just love theater. But I’m always interested — as actor or director — in doing quality material. Theater is a very powerful art form with the ability to alter emotions and opinions. Those who take it on have a responsibility to present quality productions with a purpose — even if that purpose is just an evening of entertainment.
Q. What will you be doing next?
A. My next major project will be directing the February Youngstown Playhouse production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” This is a really big deal for me since it’s one of my all-time favorite scripts. Plus, it’s a main-stage production at the Playhouse — my first! — so I’m excited beyond belief. As for next season, I can’t say too much just yet, but the world’s greatest detective WILL be making a return appearance. I hope audiences enjoy his next adventure as much as they enjoyed his last.