CCP adds more girl power to ‘Pageant’

By Wendy Carson

I remember in high school we had a huge problem picking out shows because 80 percent of our auditioners were female, up for only about a third of the roles. It seems that this gender disparity has not changed, because when Carmel Community Players held auditions for “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” most of the actors who turned up were female. So, in a brilliant casting twist, Director Lori Raffel decided to change the genders of several of the roles, mainly affecting the dreaded “Herdman clan” — it worked out beautifully.

The Herdman children, a grubby, ill-mannered, bunch of bullies, end up taking over all of the major roles in the church Christmas Pageant, much to everyone’s dismay.

Beth Bradley (Dana Hackney), our narrator, relates that her brother Charlie (Sam Vrtismarsh), whose favorite part of church is the fact that it is the one place without torture at the hands of the Herdmans, inadvertently causes this catastrophe to occur.

Stuck in the hospital from an accident, the pageant’s usual director, Mrs. Slocum (Lee Meyers) gives directing duties to Charlie’s mother, Grace (Deb Underwood), including constant phone calls “reassuring and advising” her.

Enter the Herdmans: Ruby (Jayda Glynn in the former “Ralph” role) takes the part of Joseph. Imogene (Maya Davis) usurps the role of Mary, which had always been played by Alice Wendleken (Avery Pierce) and relegating poor Alice to the Angel Choir. Loretta (Delaney Soper in “Leroy” role), Ellie (Ellianna Miles in “Ollie” role) and Claude (Austin Helm) grab the roles of the Wise Men. Rounding out their family unit, little Gladys (Abigail Smith) plays the Angel of the Lord bringing the good news to the shepherds – “Shazam!”

Add to these characters a couple of gossipy church women, Mrs. Armstrong (Ginger Home) and Mrs. McCarthy (Nikki Vrtis); the Pastor (Joe Meyers); and the petulant rest of the pageant cast – Maxine (Sophia McCoskey), Elma (Christina Whisman), and Hallie (Megan Holliday); not to mention Charlie’s ever-suffering Father (Steve Marsh), who keeps trying to get out of attending the pageant in the first place.

How this whole mess turns out, and changes those in attendance, is a Christmas miracle that has warmed audience hearts for years all over the country. It just looks a little different here.

While the cast on the whole does an admirable job, a few standouts that must be mentioned: Holliday’s dance solo was a delightful display of budding talent. Hackney did a nice job shifting her focus between telling the story and trying to survive the insanity all around her. Pierce excellently portrays her character’s “Holier than Thou” attitude throughout. Davis adds depth as Imogene finds connection with The Virgin’s plight. However, it is Smith’s turn as the fiercely indomitable Gladys Herdman that shines the brightest. I expect we will be seeing a lot more of her talents in the future.

There is one weekend left of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” through Dec. 9. So, gather the whole family, scoot over to the Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E. 126th St. in Fishers, and enjoy a fun Christmas show. Get info and tickets at carmelplayers.org.

Also, make sure you bring a few extra dollars to purchase one of the lovely pasta angels handcrafted by the troupe. They are quite lovely and will make a wonderful accent to your tree for years to come.

CCP brings fun in the ‘Park’

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

Some days, all you need from a stage play is just an easy-going fun comedy. Maybe something by Neil Simon? Then head on up to the Carmel Community Players stage in Clay Terrace for its production of Simon’s first hit, “Barefoot in the Park,” playing weekends through Oct. 16.

In the winter of 1963 in New York, a free-spirited new bride, Corie (played by Lauren White Hall), has chosen an oddly-shaped fifth-floor walkup for a first apartment for her and her husband, Paul (Nicholas Barnes), a rather straight-laced young lawyer. It’s not what he would have wanted, but out of love for Corie, Paul tries to make do with the living arrangements – broken skylight and all. Making the situation even more interesting are visits by Corie’s mother Ethel (Bridget Schlebecker) and eccentric upstairs neighbor Victor (Will Pullins). A horizon-expanding evening with the four enjoying drinks and a dinner out proves fateful for all.

Hall is effervescent and charming, and Barnes ably plays the more reserved but still likeable half of the duo, making it believable that these two opposites did attract one another. Schlebecker and Pullins are natural scene-stealers in two of the more fun roles of the Simon repertoire. And Joe Meyers hits the right note as the telephone repair man whose timely advice helps fix more than a broken line.

Director Lori Raffel (also executive director at Theatre on the Square) found a fun solution to the problem of the set change between the first two scenes – a time-consuming transformation of the apartment from bare to fully-furnished. Under half-light, the cast brings out the bed, tables, couch, etc., to a dance routine. Raffel said she even got help from a member of Dance Kaleidoscope in arranging the actors’ steps with minimal improvisation. The result is almost as entertaining as the play itself.

As for the play, “funny,” “romantic” and “satisfying” are words too easy to throw around, but they fit so well here, to the greatest extent of their meaning.

Put on your shoes and head up to the top of Carmel. Info and tickets at 317-815-9387 or www.carmelplayers.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.