Directed by Kelsey Moe Uttech, “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)” is now playing at The Barn Theatre in Willmar and runs through Dec. 16.
By Jennifer Oakes
Starring everyone’s favorite comedic straight man James Statz as Jim, beside the ever-endearing university student Ian Donahue as John, along with local radio personality Anthony Reynolds playing the role of Michael, this three-man show offers a full season of holiday cheer in just two acts.
When the proverbial curtain rises on a flickering fireplace nestled cozily center stage on a charming candle-lit set designed by Jordan Dettman and Christopher McAninch, Statz begins to present Charles Dickens’ most-beloved holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol” – but suddenly, something’s amiss. When Donahue beckons from the wings with second thoughts, the tale takes a turn for the terrific.
Imagine what were to happen if you selected all the world’s Merry Christmas stories and threw them into a blender - then added all those most loathed humbuggy Scrooge-esque Grinchier Christmas stories before finishing with a splash of eggnog and a pinch of holiday spirit then set the blender to frappe. Perhaps you couldn’t pour the end result into a cup of hot cider, but these actors have certainly poured their hearts into presenting a delightful hodgepodge brew of holiday stew.
Under Moe Uttech’s creative direction, the audience is sure to sing Hallelujahs as a trio of talented actors work with a clever script to rise above the limitations of local theater. With a plot that flies by the seat of its pants, this comical play excuses the redundancy of the original productions and keeps the audience guessing “what’s next?” from beginning to end. This is one of those well-executed productions where each actor fits their role perfectly and surpasses even the expectations of a reviewer familiar with the great talent and humor available to them.
Reynolds’ energetic presence on stage leaves one wishing they could be in the room with him for one of his radio shows. As Donahue dances and prances about the black box theater, his blissfully innocent characters recollect memories of one’s own youth and offer an element of pure Christmas spirit to an occasionally cynical script. Furthermore, if Father James used his facial expressions so brilliantly for comedic effect in church, congregation members might find themselves attending regularly with popcorn in tow.
Shortly before “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” becomes Gustav the Green-Nosed Raingoat (played by Donahue) audience participation is required to recreate Cindi Loo Hoo in order that the Grinch (Statz) may attempt to steal Christmas. Then Reynolds’ quick-witted improv skills steal the show during the “Fruit, Nut and Date-ing Game” - at which point another innocent citizen will be plucked from the audience to spar against two goofball contestants in a trivial exploration of the notorious fruitcake.
After the cast of this silly spoof has whizzed and whirled through fast, fond and furious snippets of familiar Christmas tales, and when the audience hustles and bustles through the Minnesota cold to their frostbitten cars, they’re sure to be whistling a Christmas tune or two on the streets of historical downtown Willmar.
So let this be a warning to children of all ages ... anyone who wishes to remain on Santa’s “nice list” best take care not to miss a performance of “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)” at The Barn Theatre this holiday season. This show gets two thumbs up and sugar plums for an enchanting presentation of all your favorite stories and more. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry - and you’ll probably have a late night craving for chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Jennifer K. Oakes received a bachelor’s degree in 2006 from St. Cloud State University, where she studied English and theater. She spent two years working with the Fire Mountain Arts Council and Roxy Theater in Morton, Wash., and has been involved in many productions at The Barn Theatre.