It’s a Wonderful Strife for Ben’s Scrooge

Barn Showcases Talented Trio

It’s the title’s parenthetical “and then some” added to Every Christmas Story Ever Told that makes the Blue Barn’s holiday play such a delight. Like sending Clarence the angel from It’s a Wonderful Life to redeem Scrooge.

But mostly it’s the performances by Ben Beck, Bill Grennan and Theresa Sindelar with Ben often the much-put-upon straight man to slapstick antics by Bill and Theresa. Like Bill appearing as a pirate to pursue Moby Dick in Bob Dylan’s “Child’s Christmas in Whales.”

Ben impatiently explains that he must be thinking of Dylan Thomas writing about Wales. Or Ben’s confronted by Theresa as a game host insisting he answer yes or no on the existence of Santa Claus without being guilty of spoiling the season for the kiddies.

That one winds up with baby Bill on his lap as Ben recites the famous newspaper editorial beginning, “Yes, Virbillia, there is… .”

And so it goes, including the most amazing feat of all: near the end of act one, after a potpourri of nuttiness, we hear the Peanuts music from television takes on Charlie Brown and Grennan shows up in one of Charlie’s striped shirts to tell the original Christmas story, complete with heavenly hosts, in a sweet, reverent way.

Then, without missing a beat, Beck and Sindelar drag out one of those horrible plastic inflatable messes of floppy holiday creatures—snowmen and such—to end act one with an instant and successful return to irreverence.

Not that I can convince you of such improbabilities. Suffice it to say, this is the first holiday show at the Barn that I can unequivocally recommend to absolutely everyone. You might argue whether its looniness qualifies it for the 23rd season’s “rebellious one” theme, but there’s no arguing with it as a showcase for Sindelar, Omaha’s queen of comedy, and two rising stars, Beck and Grennan.

Most of act two (the 90-minute show is split by a 15-minute intermission) deals with Ben’s determination to re-enact the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, the Dickens’ character who supplies one-third of the income for the Omaha Community Playhouse that employs his parents, Carl Beck and Susie Baer Collins, as directors.

That’s when Bill keeps popping up as Clarence the angel trying to win his wings by convincing George Bailey that he has lived a wonderful life. If Clarence can’t do the trick, he wheels in as Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter or he’s Uncle Billy misplacing the deposit.

I can never get enough of Ben, who’s lanky like Jimmy Stewart, doing that great Jimmy Stewart voice. For that matter, I can’t get enough of Sindelar doing almost any sort of crazy choreography. Don’t miss her black-robed Ghost of Christmas to Come whose grave-pointing arm isn’t enough for Scrooge so she goes into a complete charade.

And Grennan’s performance seals the deal when it comes to his growing range as one of the metro’s most promising young talents.

Having raved about all three, it remains to humbly try to describe the way director Susan Clement-Toberer has them dashing about without the benefit of a one-horse open sleigh. She pops them in and out of doorways and windows, exiting and entering, maybe only to quickly caper past or utter a word or two.

When Beck in top hat and other Dickensian touches keeps reminding us that Marley was “dead as a doornail” (and disclaiming any special knowledge of the deadness of doornails), Grennan flits past in Marley chains muttering, “Dead.”

They take the freedom to not only go loco but to go local. As a Council Bluffs native, I tried to be a little resentful when red-nosed Rudolph and the other misfit, the elf who wants to be a dentist, permit a connection between misfits and the folks across the Missouri.

Correction on the Rudolph reference: Make that Gustav the green-nosed goat-deer to avoid licensing problems.

Unlike past Christmas offerings at the Barn, you can bring youngsters and prudish elders to this one. About the closest thing to an off-color remark came when awarding a gift bag from the show’s sponsor, Omaha Steaks, by boasting, “You can’t beat our meat.”

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some) runs Nov. 25-Dec. 17 at the Blue Barn Theatre, 614 S. 11th St. in the Old Market, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25 and $20 for students, seniors and groups. Call 402.345.1576 or visit bluebarn.org.

 

posted at 03:40 pm
on Saturday, November 26th, 2011

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