BAR HARBOR — Some people are in the habit of going to see the local community theater group’s production of “A Christmas Carol” or other classic during the winter holiday season.
Others prefer to binge watch more modern, romantic Christmas stories on film: Hallmark or Lifetime creations, say, or romantic comedies such as “Love, Actually.”
This year, the two groups can come together: Acadia Community Theater’s (ACT) production of “Closed for the Holidays” is the best of both worlds. And after its first two performances last weekend at the Criterion, the production continues its run Dec. 13-14 at The Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor.
The story includes enough real-life struggles — kids and teens dealing with divorced or absent parents, adults grieving given-up-on dreams or long-dead spouses, public servants overwhelmed by public needs —to draw us in, but not so much that it feels maudlin.
The play’s message, written by Cindy Marcus and Flip Kobler and expertly emphasized by director Matt Hochman, is, “I see your cynicism, and I’ll raise you a couple of miracles.”
Take Dana and Pink, played by Lilu Fuksman-Kumpa and Blake Thieken. They’ve been kicked out of their house and, left to fend for themselves, big sister Dana decides dressing as elves to steal from stores at the mall is as good a way as any to support themselves.
“If there really was a man upstairs, we wouldn’t be here in the first place,” Dana tells her little sister. “What kind of a mother kicks her kids out on Christmas Eve?”
Besides, Dana says, whether they’re the good guys or the bad guys depends on your point of view. They could also be seen as “plucky heroes doing what they can to fight an unjust system.”
They meet Bjorn (Zoe Boland), another teen character who looks like an elf but all we know for sure is that the sheriff says she’s a homeless kid who keeps sneaking into the community center. But she works for “the man upstairs” and offers Dana and Pink jobs in the elf corps — “who better to know the joy of giving back,” she says, “than those who have taken what’s not theirs?”
Boland really ran with Hochman’s vision for the show, and the twinkle in her eye as she watches the miracles start to take shape is the real deal.
Speaking of miracles, another touching centerpiece is sisters Bean (Elliot Maldonado) and Bailey (Harmony Hopkins). Bailey believes in Santa Claus, despite being made fun of for not yet having let go of such a childish habit. “Just because we don’t understand something,” she says, “doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
The play is a set at a community center that becomes an emergency shelter as a freak snowstorm closes the interstate. The community center director Flo (Mia Jeannotte) is a hoot, complaining in a somehow very endearing way that she’s unprepared for the emergency and the city council has never released the funds to repair the boiler.
“If you need anything, I’m your gal,” she says. “Just, please don’t need anything!”
The sheriff (William Krason) and his deputy (Robin Hochman) have hilarious exchanges with Flo and with the others — Flo doesn’t want anything else to go wrong, while the sheriff doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but seems to be enjoying the exciting day on the beat.
Pity the poor high school drama teacher (Shelby, played by Angel Hochman) who has to bring her overbearing Jewish mother (Rifka, Rose Iuro-Damon) along on a field trip with a pile of students.
Rifka always wanted Shelby to be a doctor, or at least to marry one, so when an old classmate/boyfriend who happens to be a doctor (Kevin Langley) also shows up at the shelter, Rifka is beside herself with excitement.
“You know, mother,” Shelby quips, “contributions to stereotypes are not tax-deductible.”
Iuro-Damon isn’t shy about laying it on thick, which the character requires; Angel Hochman comes up with a balance of personal shyness and take-charge bravado; and Langley is convincing as the only real bad guy in the story.
The nice guy, the one we’re hoping Shelby chooses, is Colby the bus driver, played by perennial ACT favorite Mark Carignan. His interchanges with Shelby are sweet and self-conscious. He also has his daughter along on the trip (Drew, played by Ashley Graves), and she encourages him to put himself out there.
Other students in Shelby’s drama class have their own personal dramas.Toby (Bailey Fitzpatrick), is eager to find a Christmas present for her mother and goes so far as to offer to buy her friends’ clothes. She’s also the only one in the group who can translate for Nancy (Maddie Langley), who’s “very dedicated” to the drama class unit on pantomime and doesn’t speak. And Cassie (Cecelia Blackett) is eager to help her friend RJ (Harlan Mahoney), who’s convinced he’s a bearer of bad luck and will bring catastrophe on them all.
Lilly (Atty Brown), in true high school drama fashion, won’t shut up about the fact that she has an audition for Julliard on Monday. She also wants to use all the human drama she sees as research for future roles. So when Suzy (Jenni Mae Parker) gets so stressed out about what will happen when she and her fiancé (William Hopkins) miss their own wedding, Lilly asks if she can go watch the older woman throw up in the bathroom. For future character research.
All hold their own in this ensemble piece which, though it stretches to nearly two hours with an intermission, flies by in a wink.