Ah, the Heartwarming Christmas Comedy. But how to evaluate a children’s-theater version of the HCC that’s filled with first-time-ever-onstage performers?
Is the Heartless Reviewer supposed to call out defenseless little kids by name and rake them over the Coals of Critical Insult? (Actually, that sounds kind of.... Oh, OK. Maybe next time.)
Fortunately, for appraisals of an HCC like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (at Spokane Civic Theatre through Dec. 20), the Society for the Cultivation of Recreational Originality and Outstanding Gleeful Entertainment has provided a series of 10-point rating scales.
Here are some evaluations in SCROOGE’s categories.
For example, in the category of “Cute Kids,” the Civic’s Best Christmas Pageant Ever scores... 8 out of 10.
An HCC requires oodles of cute kids, especially for a tale about merging the outcast Herdman family’s little brats into the community (basically, by tricking them into taking part in the annual Nativity show). Little boys tugging on Teacher’s dress, tiny girls in adorable frocks, the freckle-faced child praising church services because “there are no Herdmans there” ... you just wanna pinch their little cheeks.
Harried Parents (6 of 10) The iconic image of The Best Christmas is of Mom, in heels and ’50s-housewife dress, surrounded by dozens of scampering, cavorting, out-of-control kidlets. But the Civic’s gang could afford to let loose and be even wilder. Let’s see more screaming and eye-gouging, boys and girls!
Gossipy Housewives (7) Director Andrew Ware Lewis provides a couple of telephone-tree sequences, with the rolling-pin-andhair-curlers crowd chattering about the Herdmans’ high jinks. My word, what a scandal!
Idealized View of Juvenile Delinquency (9) What are those darn kids up to these days? Smoking in the bathroom and using words like “pregnant.” When told of the Herdmans’ antics, the Good Kids’ Dad furrows his brow, sticks his pipe in his mouth and sucks on it. (Just like Ward Cleaver.)
Sense of Entitlement (7) The Herdman brats intimidate the Nice Young Lady who usually plays Mary, Mother of God, into taking a sideline role. She strikes back by making snooty comments about the Herdmans’ lack of acting skill. Somebody isn’t learning the True Meaning of Christmas.
Improvisational Surprise (7) In live performance, kids do the darnedest things. During an everybody-in-the-background-freeze sequence, one young fellow kept fiddling with his belt.
And I’m pretty sure I saw an angel yawn.
But then BCPE is attuned to little ones’ attention spans: The whole thing’s over in less than an hour. The Herdmans learn their Bible lesson quickly, and we get to go home with our cardiac pumps all toasty.
Because you know what? That’s what HCCs are for.