By Rosemary Laughlin
Why come to a play that uses the same script as the long-loved TV special? Well, for the same reason that people want to hear seasonal carols and songs sung by different choirs. There is pleasure in both familiarity and nuance.
In "A Charlie Brown Christmas," it is really nice to see actors flesh out line-sketched cartoon figures. In Parkland's Harold and Jean Miner Theatre, under the direction of Latrelle Bright, they act out the story on three-dimensional terraced snow banks as sparkling snow initially falls. Nicholas Shaw is the designer.
It is delightful to be in an eager audience more youthful than geriatric in a full house. This is a perfect play to bring children to, from age 3 to teens. An entire Girl Scout troop was seated next to me.
Everyone was clearly enjoying the performance while absorbing the point that over-commercialization encourages selfishness. Sally's long Christmas list dictated to Charlie Brown is the case in point. She greedily wants everything in her colors, sizes and shapes, "all that's coming to me, my fair share."
Lucy's cynical take is that Christmas is "a big commercial racket all run by an Eastern syndicate." Nevertheless, she recommends that Charlie Brown direct a Christmas play to build his confidence and organizational skills.
Charlie Brown chooses to focus on a Christmas tree. He rejects the full-colored trees for a skinny, dinky tree "that needs me."
The bullying kids make a mockery of the tree. It is even rejected by Snoopy, who has just suffered mockery himself from Lucy for his lighthearted, spirited dancing. In response, he produces a prize-winning, super-decorated doghouse.
Charlie Brown's needy tree collapses when he tries to spruce it up. Once again, he proves that no good deed will go unpunished.
Security blanket around his shoulders, Linus (Lukas Mills) comes to the rescue by reading the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. He recites it in a straightforward narrative manner. Applause rippled in the audience.
The kids get the message of "peace on Earth, good will to men." They return to the ruined little tree and add decorations "to show a little love."
Performances sparkle as the kids move about in their bright costumes by Sheri Doyle, Quentin Jones and Amber Sarno.
A trio provides "Peanuts" music from a side stage that is visible to the audience: Zachary Bowers on drums, Chris Beyt on bass and Justin Brauer on piano. Schroeder (Cedric Jones) coordinates at his piano on stage, while defending his beloved Beethoven. Lucy (Madelyn Childress) responds with crabby negativity and hauteur.
Stylist Mallory Herges gets the credit for the distinctive hair of Frieda and Lucy. Pig Pen is cutely messy.
Snoopy is played with verve by David Heckman. He did Snoopy proud when he mimicked all the animals in the play and drew laughter. By contrast, Daniel Howie as humble Charlie Brown aroused sympathy.
The cast danced their curtain call downstage, then came into the aisles for two sing-along carols with the audience. A chance for pictures followed.The cast arranged themselves on stage, and the photo subject stood in front of Snoopy's doghouse. Many children lined up, but the line moved fast. I heard "adorable" quite a few times.
And what did the children themselves have to say? When I asked two sub-teens what they liked best, I got "Snoopy!" and "the music." Of his 3-year-old son, a parent told me, "The play had his attention the whole time." Ditto for several others.
It mattered that sound designer Cynthia Booker put microphones on all the actors, making every word clear, even to little ones.
I'm going to let the English teacher in me have the last say. Though virtually every culture through time has held a winter celebration, it's good for all to know the story behind the first syllable of our Modern English word "Christmas."
Rosemary Laughlin is a retired English teacher from University High School.
If you go
What: "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Where: The Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland College.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday.
Tickets: $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors 65 and older and $9 for youths 12 and younger. Tickets are $11 each for individuals in groups of 15 or more. To make reservations, visit parkland.edu/theatre or call 351-2528.