Thursday, December 6, 2012
Theater review: The Christmas Cabin at Pantagleize Theatre retells the nativity story with a curious Texas twist
It's political, yet respectfully reverent.
FORT WORTH Violet O’Valle has something to say. She is the playwright of this off-beat re-telling of the Bible’s Nativity Scene (Book of Luke version) with a Texas yarn twist. Those that are familiar with the Pantagleize Theatre of Fort Worth, TX are aware of the Texas charm and eccentricity that the company loves to infuse into many of its productions, further developing a niche that can’t be found anywhere else in the DFW metroplex.
O’Valle’s The Christmas Cabin is no exception to the company’s growing legacy to the theatre community. The first half of the story primarily focuses on the Reynolds family on their South Texas ranch. They have been dealing with an old abandoned cabin on their land that a mysterious someone or something has been setting on fire and disturbing the surrounding habitat of the town. Through a town hall meeting we learn how this has affected the entire community.
I have explained the story in a matter of fact way because the story is told in a no nonsense manner with the actors exposing little or no artifice to their craft. Under the direction of Libby Bogart, this benefits the play’s overall effect because the collective cast achieves an earnest sincerity that brings the audience into their version of The Christmas Story. This creates a sense of community between the characters that is needed before going into the second act when O’Valle turns the story of the birth of Jesus Christ even more on its ear.
Little I can tell you of the details in the second act but it all leads to a single punch line that, depending on your religious orientation or political views, will offend some, confound others, tickle the funny bone of many, and challenge everyone. The punch line in question acts as a cipher for each audience member to project one’s own beliefs or spin on the material. I was simply bemused, wondering what the playwright’s intent was. I left with more questions in my mind than answers. The play opens the door to skewer many topics dear to Texas culture, such as immigration, education, even UFO Sightings, but keeps all of these ideas at arm’s length.
There are plenty of standouts among the collective ensemble, most notably David Ellis as Mathew (there are no coincidences in any of the character’s names) the local newspaper editor. Mr. Ellis conveys so much ease in every ounce of dialogue he delivers, even in the second act when he doubles as Shep, the dog. He was the most committed and the least self-conscious in a brief scene with the actors portraying various barnyard animals.
Keisha Matthews as Rosa Gonzales excels with her Mexican dialect. It is respectful to the piece and never a parody of itself as she plays this Mary stand-in with just the right amount of reverence. Virgil Cox as Nicholas and David Yeomans as Peter are equally essential to coloring in the culture of this small town community.
Timothy Crabb as Jack Reynolds does a good job of anchoring the 1st act as the unofficial patriarch to this community. He is very natural and a fine example of what I alluded to with his performance never having to resort to any noticeable craft or artifice.
All the technical elements are solid in this production. Everything from the sparse interior decoration of the Reynolds kitchen to the suggestive lighting effects of the cabin help to paint a community that feels very much like it was ripped out of a Texas Monthly magazine.
If I sounded too hard on the playwright earlier, it is because I appreciate and respect Ms. O’Valle’s bravery and daring to be so creative in re-working a classic story that I wish she would have expanded on by incorporating ideas from the Book of Mathew version as well.
The play ends just as it is just getting warmed up. It clocks in at 85 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. I sense the potential for an additional third act that would make this production feel complete.
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