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Christmas at Sweet Apple (2008)

a Holiday Drama
CATEGORY :
by Philip Depoy, based on the writings of Celestine Sibley

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre In The Square:Alley Stage [WEBSITE]
ID# 3275

SHOWING : November 15, 2008 - December 28, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Celestine Sibley opens her Sweet Apple home and heart for another Holiday Season.


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REVIEWS

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Christmas Moments
by Dedalus
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
4.0
It’s Christmas Day. The swag below the tree has been opened and oohed over. The child is in the living room, watching “Tom and Jerry” celebrate the spirit of slapstick. The wife is in the kitchen, making a traditional Beef Wellington, and her brother is … somewhere in the house. I’m waiting to have a “Christmas Moment.”

Fans of Celestine Sibley and the Philip DePoy stage adaptations of her life and works (“Turned Funny” and “Christmas at Sweet Apple”) will recognize that phrase as descriptive of a moment, a feeling when circumstance and fellowship combine in an epiphany that seems to embody an ill-defined “spirit of Christmas.” In other words, it can’t be described or sought after or rationalized – you just know it when it comes.

I’ve never read Ms. Sibley’s works, nor have I seen Theatre in the Square’s previous stagings of the DePoy plays. Based on my experience here, this is a literary shortcoming I will need to remedy soon. I found this play sweet, moving, gentle, and a perfect antithesis to the hurley and burley of last-minute shopping and fret-about-bills angst. It was an example of what I like to see most – real characters telling (and acting out) real stories that, simplistic to the core, still manage to strike a recognizable chord in someone miles and decades and political-continents removed from the tellers.

It’s Christmas, and Celestine Sibley has invited her friends Patience and Ollie to celebrate with her at her home. She has also invited two acquaintances, Beth and Dave, to join them, simply because she knows they’ll be alone on Christmas. That’s it. Along the way, each of them gets to tell stories, stories that may or may not be true (it doesn’t matter), but stories that nevertheless embody what Ms. Sibley calls “The Christmas Moment.”

We hear (and see) about the gentleness of a speechless child being given a hand-made dollhouse by her Carnie parents. We hear (and see) another young girl raised in isolation by a doting grandfather, who nevertheless discovers the worlds of words and other people. We hear (and see) a civil war anecdote in which food and forgiveness trump long-seated hatreds and vengeances. We hear (and see) the miracle a “trick bull” brings to one family.

And, at the center of it all is Celestine Sibley, a remarkable woman with a heart full of acceptance, a tolerance for (and appreciation of) the sharp edges most of us use to stand out from the crowd. She is a woman who loves the tale, who easily falls into the rhythms of storytelling, who easily encourages the same love in her guests.

The play itself is woven together like a tapestry – actors break character to assume roles in the story they’re telling. They spontaneously burst into song for no other reason than to underscore a mood, or to express a thought mere words cannot encompass. Staged in the small, thrust, Alley Stage, it provides an intimacy that invites us into the worlds and stories of the characters. Humor comes out of the most grim scenarios, and tears come unbidden when things should be happiest. If I have one complaint, it was that the staging seemed to focus mainly on the audience in the front segment, leaving those of us on the sides to bask in the glow of backsides and ignored sight-lines. But when the focus is so on the words and the stories, what matters that?

There wasn’t a weak spot in the cast. Erin Considine brings to Celestine Sibley (and others) a warmth that even the coldest heart can bask in. Abby Parker is Beth (and others), bringing “earth mother” sincerity to her initially depressed and unhappy character. To watch her warm to Ms. Sibley’s overtures of friendship is one of the primary joys of this production. Holly Stevenson brings a flinty no-nonsense exterior to Patience (and others) that hides moments that surprise even those who’ve known her the longest. Allen O’Reilly brings his usual array of talent to Ollie (and four others), showing a penchant for sharp characterization that should be the envy of us all. And Rob Lawhon brings a gangly charm to Dave (and others), sharing his smooth singing voice with all of us.

So, the question remains, does a cynical old Skeptic like me even deserve a “Christmas Moment?” Judging from the character on display here, Ms. Sibley would not begrudge me such a moment, that, characteristically spiritual in nature, is still bound up more in tradition and experience than in dogma and ritual. Watching this play with my daughter squirming on my lap was almost one. Maybe it’ll happen tonight, when Julia is curled up in “cuddle position” with her new doll, and we are watching something on TV. Maybe it’ll happen when a stranger at a play offers me a hug and a “thank you” for whatever. Maybe it’ll even happen when I send in this column, with the feeling that I shared a marvelous Christmas Play with all of you. I don’t know. I DO know, after seeing this play, that I look forward to the experience. And I’ll definitely recognize it when it comes.

Merry Christmas!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)




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