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From New to Old, Holiday Plays Hit Local Stages

holiday plays
Stephanie Altholz, left, Nestor Campos Jr., (with John Winston) and Tara Sisssom star in "On an Open Fire" at B Street Theatre.

‘Tis the season” is the way many lazy writers begin their roundup of holiday events. It’s an easy way to get into a list or discussion of Christmas offerings, but it’s not as if the reason isn’t aware of the time of year.

Nevertheless, here we go with a roundup of some of the local holiday stage events. This season actually began way before Turkey Day with the Broadway Sacramento touring production of “A Christmas Story the Musical” at Memorial Auditorium.

Closer to the time we might expect the onslaught of holiday plays comes the latest original offering by Busk Busfield of B Street Theatre. “On an Open Fire” follows Busfield’s growing list of Christmas stories marked by both heart and humor. His goal, he said after the play’s recent opening night, is to entertain. Any lessons or insights the audience might gain is a gift, he said. He wants the audience to laugh and feel good. Busfield accomplishes just that with “On an Open Fire,” a family comedy-drama about a perennial question: When do we tell a child the truth about Santa Claus?

Kellie and Dan (Tara Sissom and Hunter Hoffman, respectively) are parents of Max, a son (unseen) in the second grade. Dan thinks it’s time to tell the boy that there’s no Santa. Kellie, hoping to hold onto her child’s innocence as long as possible, thinks they should wait. This family “discussion” comes in the midst of Dan’s campaigning for a local office as drain commissioner, egged on by his sister-in-law campaign manager Liz (Stephanie Altholz). Liz inadvertently spills the beans, causing all kinds of heck at home and at school for the boy who tells other students what he’s been told.

These are the kinds of questions and problems faced by all parents – and not just at Christmas time, but at Easter and when a child begins to lose “baby teeth” and learns of a Tooth Fairy. Busfield creates a realistic situation involving recognizable characters all while working through cosmic chaos – the teacher Alex (Nestor Campos Jr.) with a hamster named John Winston (after John Lennon) on his shoulder comes to mind. What emerges at the end is that what we believe is real and not real isn’t as important as what we do with our doubts, fears, hopes and beliefs. Or something like that.

“On an Open Fire” plays at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 29 on the B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2700 Capitol Ave. Tickets are $28-$47. For more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to bstreettheatre.org.

Some other choices

“The Nutcracker” by the Sacramento Ballet has been a holiday tradition for – literally – generations. Girls who danced in the Christmas treasure created by Ron Cunningham early in his tenure as co-artistic director of the dance company (with wife Carinne Binda) are now mothers whose daughters perform in it. With music by Tchaikovsky, this young girl’s Christmas dream of a fantastical journey through time and space is one of the most beautiful and cherished holiday experiences.

Beginning last year, “The Nutcracker” got a new interpretation by choreographer Amy Seiwert, the Ballet’s new artistic director. The central character, once a young girl called Clara, is now an adolescent called Marie. This transition to an older girl provides an opportunity for more sophisticated dancing and gives an added sense of the character’s awakening into real life. Seiwert, thus, gives the adventure a multi-leveled meaning.

“The Nutcracker” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19-20, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 at Memorial Auditorium. Tickets are $65-$107. For more information call (916) 552-5810 or go to sacballet.org.

“Black Nativity” at Celebration Arts is a musical retelling of the original Christmas story created by African American poet and playwright Langston Hughes. It combines African American spiritual and gospel music with dance and narration. An all-Black cast performs the play which is a series of vignettes advancing through time. Hughes selected the songs – mostly popular Christmas carols sung gospel-style – although some new music was created for the show, which had its first performances in 1961.

James Wheatley directs the inspirational holiday presentation, which opened on Nov. 29 and continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays until Dec. 22. Tickets are $20 general, with discounts for seniors and students. All tickets are $10 on Thursdays. Celebration Arts is at 2727 B St. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 455-2787 or go to celebrationarts.net.

“A Christmas Carol” at Sacramento Theatre Company is another holiday tradition, beloved for its spectacle and grandeur. Adapted from the Charles Dickens classic novel by Richard Hellesen, with original music by David de Berry, this year’s production features Matt K. Miller reprising his extraordinary performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman whose sad and lonely life can be redeemed if he survives – and learns from – the ghosts who visit him just before Christmas. Part of its 75th anniversary season, this is a major production for STC, with gorgeous sets, costumes, choreography and effects.

“A Christmas Carol,” co-directed by STC’s executive producing director Michael Laun and Miranda D. Lawson, currently is playing preview performances Dec. 4 though Dec. 7 at 2 p.m., and opens at 8 p.m. on Dec. 7. The performance continues at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 29. Tickets are $30-$45. Sacramento Theatre Company is at 1419 H St. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-6722 or go to sactheatre.org.

“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” at Capital Stage is another installment in the Christmastime adventures of characters from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” created by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Last year, Capital Stage gave us the pair’s “Miss Bennet,” which began the Pemberley Christmas series. Capital Stage co-founding member Peter Mohrmann will direct the play which features Brittni Barger, who appeared in “Miss Bennet,” along with the excellent Stephanie McVay in her Capital Stage debut. This is sort of the “downstairs” version of “Miss Bennet’s” “upstairs” look at Christmas preparations and events.

Like “A Christmas Carol,” this play begins with preview performances Dec. 4-5 (7 p.m.) and Dec. 6 (8 p.m.). Opening night is Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. and performances continue at 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 29. Tickets are $25-$47. Capital Stage is at 2215 J St. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 995-5464 or go to capstage.org.

Photo courtesy of Rudy Meyers Photography

From New to Old, Holiday Plays Hit Local Stages via @sacramentopress

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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