‘In the Spirit’ is unusual but still enjoyable

By Stephanie Ottey


The Christmas season is upon us, and to celebrate, many area theaters are opening holiday or winter-themed shows. It’s easy to assume that these special presentations will be uplifting and jovial, but The Victorian Players is taking a new approach by sharing a surprisingly sobering view of the holiday this year.

A special event courtesy of Centaur Stage Productions, “In the Spirit of Christmas” skips the sweetness of a typical Christmas show recipe, and focuses on the other spirits of the season.

The collection is unusual, and at times unsettling, as it illustrates the sadness and wickedness that potentially come this time of year.

The first play, “The Elf Rebellion,” starts things off on a whimsical note. This play, written by Don Zolidis, takes us to Santa’s workshop. Without appropriate pay (and dental coverage) Santa’s elves are refusing to work, until they realize the spirit of Christmas isn’t in getting, but in giving.

With lots of elf humor and the cutest little helpers you ever did see, this scene, directed by Gerri Jenkins, is fun. Vinnie Dragos, Brian Root and Nick Berent are darling elves, and Chris Haddock is an unusually demanding Santa.

This is followed by a quick turn toward the dramatic with Daniel M. Pearle’s “The Truth About Christmas.”

This rebel play is bravely directed by Hunter Thomas, and illustrates the anti-Christmas spirit.

A young girl renounces her school and her family when they use religious symbols in a supposedly nondenominational setting. She wages a war on Christmas and the Christian traditions that it was founded on, and is bullied and beaten for it. The five ladies in this scene give compelling performances. Tricia Terlesky, Jennifer Milligan, Liz Conrad, Brittiani McNeil-Ketcham and Grace Offerdahl make “The Truth” unnerving.

In a festive display of ironic juxtaposition, this is followed by an intermission of Christmas caroling.

Next we see “The Christmas Machine,” also by Zolidis, which is a commentary on the greed and commercialism of the holiday decorated in bright colors and masked in a Seuss-like rhyme.

Directed by Sam Luptak Jr., here the spirit of Christmas is spending and selling, and the spirit of the large cast is energetic.

Finally, the night wraps up with Thornton Wilder’s “The Long Christmas” — an homage to memories, traditions and time. The spirit of this long Christmas is somber, as the holiday can be when loved ones are missed. With players from earlier plays, this scene is an appropriate summation of an evolving family.

All of these sketches are wrapped with a bow of caroling fun led by Roz Blystone.

She keeps a jovial air around some otherwise disheartening shows, and allows the audience to sing and smile.

In the end, the evening at the Victorian is still homey.

The four plays create a feeling much like a Christmas pageant — they are simple, organic and enjoyable to watch.

“In the Spirit of Christmas” runs through Dec. 9. The Victorian Players are at 702 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown. For ticket information, call 330-519-5765.

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