Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

Beasley's Christmas Party

Tony Ward, Joey Collins and Crystal Finn
Merrimack Repertory Theatre offers respite from overblown, lavishly produced and hyped Christmas spectaculars with a quiet delight from a century-old story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Booth Tarkington. Adapted by C.W. Munger, the New England premiere of Beasley's Christmas Party is a heartwarming journey in the time machine to a simpler, more genteel small-town America. The joy in personal companionship and surprises found only in the imagination take the place of Santa Claus, fancy gift wrap and shiny baubles.

When a curious journalist starts his new life in the metropolis of Wainwright, he discovers the most wondrous happenings in the big, old-fashioned brick house next door to Mrs. Apperthwaite's boarding house where Man 1/Booth (Tony Ward) resides and narrates the story. Artfully costumed by Theresa Squire in period-style suits, Ward, Joey Collins and Crystal Finn play a dozen characters representing the denizens of the neighborhood, which is suggested by four columns of assorted suitcases stacked atop steamer trunks and warmly lit by a combination of spotlights, lanterns and little bulbs.

Booth sets the scene with a lyrical description of Beasley's, the "finest" house in Wainwright, and begins to introduce the others who share his abode, including the landlady's lovely daughter Miss Apperthwaite (Finn) and Mr. Dowden (Collins), an elderly lawyer and politician. Finn also breathes wide-eyed life into Beasley's young ward Hamilton and a handful of colorful locals, while Collins morphs into Beasley, his servant Old Bob, the newspaper editor and a political rival.

Mr. Beasley is an eccentric man of few words who is beloved by most members of the community. When it becomes known that he is running for Governor, a few hate mongers (Tea Party?) come out of the woodwork to try to upset his apple cart by proclaiming him unfit for the office. Many outward signs imply that he is crazy and few people really know what goes on inside that big house. Assigned to cover the story for the newspaper, Booth seeks the truth about the candidate and learns about the heart and imagination of his neighbor, while absorbing a very important life lesson for himself.

For adults and children alike, nothing compares to sitting back and being told a story, and Munger's adaptation of Tarkington's Christmas gem lends itself well to the practice. Featuring a seamless mix of narration and action, Beasley's Christmas Party both stirs the imagination and satisfies our desire to see the words spring to life. Director Carl Forsman makes the most of the chameleonic abilities of his trio of actors and gives the production a leisurely flow, like warm caramel spreading over a dish of ice cream. Josh Bradford's soft lighting design adds to the old-fashioned homey feeling of Beowulf Boritt's set. The familiar sound of every knock on the door and closing of a window is perfectly coordinated thanks to Will Pickens' design. Beasley's Christmas Party is short and sweet and one holiday party you won't want to miss.

Performances through December 19 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre; Box Office 978-654-4678 or

Beasley's Christmas Party, Adapted by C.W. Munger, From the story by Booth Tarkington; Directed by Carl Forsman, Scenery Designed by Beowulf Boritt, Costumes Designed by Theresa Squire, Lighting Designed by Josh Bradford, Sound Designed by Will Pickens, Stage Manager Emily F. McMullen

Featuring: Joey Collins (Man 2), Crystal Finn (Woman 1), Tony Ward (Man 1)

Photo: Meghan Moore  

- Nancy Grossman

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