Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Butterfingers Angel ...
Also see Richard's review of The Mousetrap
But the two plays could not be more different, as the Helen Keller story has a kind of martyred, reverential glow to it, and this crazy Christmas story (about Mary and Joseph getting married and going to Bethlehem) is almost entirely, delightfully irreverent.
Which is not to say it's anti-Christmas or anti-Christiannot at all. But it makes everyone in the story very human, and this particular Mary (Colleen M. Backer) is terrifically funny in her bizarre situation, all the way through...
Joseph (still uneasy about who the real father is): "Well, when is the baby due?"
Mary (bewildered and tired of all the questions): "I don't know, sometime around Christmas?"
I also think I know why this show is hardly ever put upas a producer, you have to look beyond the usual "Christmas pageant" style of the script (staged here in an actual church) to find the real humanity underneath. It seems to pop up when you least expect it, in the most unusual ways.
True, there are young people dressed as cows or sheep or mules, and a style of acting that's frequently (purposely) two-dimensional. But there are also the great unexpected peaks and valleys, where the show finds an awful depth of desolation, usually after the characters' desperate, unanswered prayers. There's also a stunned silence when John Reidy, as Herod, finishes his horrific speech about what he likes to do to those who threaten his crown.
Fortunately, director Gary F. Bell has found the stark humanity of the play, and a lot more than just the goofy jokes in the script (although somehow this Mary manages to produce a steady stream of laughs with an avalanche of weary, throwaway goofiness, for the entire two hours and thirty-five minutes' running time).
Joseph Corey Henke is wonderful as the exceedingly earnest (butterfingers) angel in white satin shorts: clambering for a way to work God's will, in spite of the open disbelief of all around. And Stephen Peirick, as Joseph, is great in his prayer near the end, explaining all his doubts.
Through December 21, 2013, at the Tower Grove Abbey. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org (The full title of play is The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut and the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree.)
Cast (in order of appearance)