BAR HARBOR — The Acadia Community Theater has once again put the capital “C” in Christmas with its charming child-filled production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which opened at the Criterion Theatre last weekend.
First of all, the play is a fun contemporary take on the ubiquitous church nativity pageant. Anyone who ever attended a Sunday school has probably participated in one and felt the pain of not being cast as Mary or Joseph or even a camel. There’s always the chorus of anonymous angels and shepherds.
ACT’s show was performed in an amazingly cozy Criterion, which with some excellent sets and decent lighting, gave the whole thing an intimate ambience.
And finally, a cast of adorable kids and committed adults, directed by the well-seasoned Mark Puglisi, made the whole thing both entertaining and heartwarming.
The story involves an annual Christmas pageant at the local church. Everything is proceeding in its usual orderly fashion with all the good boys and girls playing key roles and the same Sunday school teacher (an excellently bossy Sarah Mislang) directing. Then a series of unfortunate events leaves them without a director, and the production is invaded by the Herdman gang, a family of six wrong-headed kids from the wrong side of the tracks.
Taking over all the pageant parts by force of will and fist, the Herdman’s initially create chaos. But their pugnacious but pragmatic questioning of the story of Jesus’s birth and attempt to make sense of it in their own terms ends up bringing fresh life, meaning and perhaps a little miracle to the performance.
The entire cast of children and adults did a marvelous job of maintaining their characters and projecting their voices throughout and were clearly having a splendid time of it. Of special note was Breanna Stanley as Beth Bradley, who tied the various scenes together with some excellent narration and impressive stage presence. Tessa Sanborn also did a good job with her part of the narration.
Peter Benson as Beth’s brother Charlie was totally believable as an exasperated kid who believes he’s a little too old now for church pageants. Joel Richardson is great as their dad who has seen enough of these things to last a lifetime, and Ashley McCaslin as the mom, who is volunteered to take over as director, effectively portrayed her helplessness as the Herdman’s took over the show.
The six horrible Herdman’s, delightfully played by Zoe Boland, Charlotte Miller, CassieLyn Willis, Bodie Tapley, and Erin and Liam Hollis in worn denim, leather and faux fur, embraced their roles as bullies so well – the boys gnawing on toothpicks and sneering, the girls tough and intimidating – one hopes this is not type casting. Especially wonderful are Boland, who, as the ringleader, Imogene, redirects her aggression from her fellow cast members to fiercely protecting the baby Jesus from Herod’s assassins, and Miller as Gladys, who transforms the angel Gabriel from a messenger of the lord to an action super hero.
As Alice the Miss Goody-Two-Shoes of the pageant, Claire Sanner was perfectly perfect and perfectly annoying.
It also was great to see Ezra Hackett back on stage, this time cross-dressing as Mrs. Clark, one of the gossipy church ladies predicting disaster. The others were played nicely by Heather Dillon and Carrie White.
When the final curtain was drawn and the house lights came up, a child in the audience remarked loudly, “That was really good!” which was both true and the whole point of the play.
Audiences will have another chance to see this really good, worst pageant ever at the Pemetic School in Southwest Harbor next Friday, Dec.11, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.
More young people than usual auditioned for “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Due to the numbers, some of the lead children’s roles are being split by two actors. A lead one night will be replaced by the second actor the next. The replaced actor will appear on stage in a minor role.