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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
The Bad Kids Grab the Spotlight

Duke City Repertory

Also see Caleb's review of Barnum


Cast
Here's a play about bad kids finding a way out of their dark hole. The 1971 script by Australian Barbara Robinson is based on her own book. It was originally a short story that was published in McCall's magazine, titled "The Worst Kids in the World."

The cast of characters is mostly kids, with the four Herdman kids at the center of the action. Ralph, Imogene, Leroy and Gladys Herdman are the town's roughest, wildest and poorest citizens. Their dad is gone and their mom works two jobs. The Herdman kids have not flourished without supervision. They lie, cheat, smoke and cuss. Like all bad kids, they shun church. But things are about to change. For one, the church's Christmas pageant is coming up.

The pageant has long been produced by a very controlling Mrs. Armstrong. This year she's laid up in the hospital with a broken leg. Pageant production falls to Grace Bradley, the mother of Beth and Charlie. She means well, but she's out of her depth. Her daughter Beth narrates the play's events.

Things slip out of control when Beth's little brother tells one of the Herdman kids that they give away candy at church. It's a fabrication meant to taunt the Herdmans. So the Herdman kids show up at church just as Grace is casting the pageant, which features the Nativity. Major roles usually go to Beth and Charlie, but the rambunctious Herdmans jump at the chance to be in the play.

Everyone expects the pageant to be a disaster, with Ralph Herdman playing Joseph, Imogene playing Mary, Leroy Herdman playing a wise man, and the smallest Herman, Gladys, playing an angel. The surprise is that the casting is perfect. The Herdman kids can relate to the plight of Mary and Joseph, stuck in a manger because all of the town's decent facilities are taken. The Herdmans see Mary's family as outcasts and treat the roles sympathetically—to everyone's amazement.

The Duke City Repertory production is directed by Katie Becker Colon. The energy of the show is certainly childlike. The leading kids roles are fine, though the Herdmans are not as "bad" as the script suggests. The adults have little influence over the momentum of the kids and their good kid/bad kid politics. It's a fun show, though a bit short at 45 minutes and one act. For families with small kids, the brevity may be a blessing.

Oddly, another theater group in Albuquerque also produced The Best Christmas Pageant Ever this month. This is a fairly rare occurrence, but it happened with another play about two years ago. Interestingly, this doubling up doesn't seem to affect attendance adversely. That's quite a testament to the health and overall size of Albuquerque's live theater audience.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, produced by the Duke City Repertory Theatre, is playing at the Cell Theatre at 700 1st. St. NW. Performances run Thursdays through Sundays from through December 22. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances open at 8:00 pm. Sunday performances are at 2:00 pm. Adults are $20. Military and students, $12, children 5 - 17, $5. For reservations, go to dukecityrep.com.


Photo: Rick Galli

--Rob Spiegel



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