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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Christmas Foundling
by Rich See
If you are looking for a family-oriented show to share the holiday spirit, then Journeymen Theater's area premiere of Norman Allen's The Christmas Foundling will be the perfect treat. While offering up several laughs and a glimpse at the less commercial Christmases of days gone by, it's also a sweet look at how love, sacrifice and change can expand one's world and life.
Starting out on Christmas Eve 1850, just after the outbreak of gold rush fever, the story culminates on a Christmas Eve in the midst of the American Civil War. Rather than involve itself in either of those cultural revolutions, Allen's play is more a gentle love story which he works on a variety of levels. His message in the play is to highlight the miracles that love can bring into our lives -- if we allow it.
Thus, high in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, he's set two gold miners, the cantankerous Old Jake and the younger anti-social Hoke, who find themselves suddenly becoming the guardians of an infant on Christmas Eve. The child, whom they name Tom, has been orphaned after his mother dies from starvation, exposure and childbirth. With no information about the boy's relatives, the two men choose to raise the "wee bear" instead of giving him up. To assist them, they enlist their fellow miners and together the men of Piny Gulch (Population: 5) raise the boy in the beautiful, pristine and isolated countryside. As the years pass, the presence of the child changes each of the men and as they teach the boy to maneuver through the wilderness, he inturn softens their rough and gruff exteriors.
Thus neighbors Boston, Georgia and Moscow give up wine, women and song on Christmas Eve and begin to spend the holiday awaiting "The Telling" (which is the story of how Tom the child came into their lives). This annual event is followed up by the humorous "Passing of the Goat" (a story which explains how Tom was able to survive his first years on earth). The storytelling becomes key to the men's simple lives, since none read or write English, and thus a faithful retelling of the child's history is the only way to ensure he has any knowledge of his origins or roots.
It's during the annual Christmas Eve festivities that another woman -- only the second to pass through the small town in ten years -- emerges at Jake and Hoke's doorway. Sarah it turns out is Tom's aunt, who after receiving an inheritance which gave her wealth and freedom, has been searching for her sister for the past two years. When she discovers Tom, she is determined to return him to his relatives in Boston. It's at this point that an unlikely romance develops and the story comes full circle on another Christmas Eve with everyone gathered around Old Jake waiting for "The Telling."
If all that sounds like a tidy, coincidence-filled holiday charmer, that's exactly what The Christmas Foundling is -- a feel good play, to warm your heart and make you delight in the magic of the season.
Director Gregg Henry pulls together a fun cast and makes good use of H Street Playhouse's large staging area. David Ghatan's set is a mixture of space, old wood, ancient props and blue sky backdrops. (There is an odd placement of patron seats on the staging area itself, which takes away from the overall effect of the mid-19th century motif. But that is a small distraction.) Yvette Ryan's costumes bring out the history of the play and Bryan Miller's sound design incorporates guitar music which sets the holiday mood.
Within the cast, Jim Zidar is a constant, reassuring presence as Old Jake, the patriarch of the gold miners' clan. While Scott McCormick, Andy Brownstein and Joshua Drew make up the comedic trio of heavy drinkers Boston, Moscow and Georgia.
JJ Area brings the close-lipped and quiet Hoke to thoughtful life. Although, after seeing Mr. Area as one of the dancing, stage-bounding witches in MacBird!, one wonders why Director Henry didn't utilize the actor's ability for physical movement a bit more.
As Aunt Sarah, Becky Peters creates a believable transition from Boston blue blood to California settler. And Sean McCoy provides an inquisitive Tom who is an enjoyable young man with a knack for asking all the questions no one wants to answer.
This is another well-done production by Journeymen. And, while it may not be as deep or adventurous as some of their other presentations, it's a lovely, light story to help you smile and enjoy the holidays.