THEATER | “Miracle on Christmas Lake II” at Yellow Tree Theatre: A superior sequel

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For its holiday play this year, Yellow Tree Theatre is presenting Miracle on Christmas Lake II, a sequel to its very successful Miracle on Christmas Lake I which has been shown for the last three years. Both plays are written by Yellow Tree cofounder Jessica Lind. The other cofounder, Jason Peterson, directs the production. Having seen both shows, I can affirmatively state that this is one of those rare times when the sequel surpasses the original. 

The sequel returns to Christmas Lake, Minnesota, and brings back the four leading characters from the first show: Colin, Tess, Martha and Neil. After saving their theater from financial ruin last year, Colin and Tess have been busy settling into living at Christmas Lake and adjusting to their new role as parents. Martha, who last year was best known for having a lizard and her crush on Neil, now has been steadily dating Neil for a year and is yearning for him to propose. Neil, who is busy with his piano tuning career, is hesitant about taking the big plunge with Martha.

Since the theater was saved in Christmas Lake I, the group is now on to saving the town, which is in dire financial straights and is being threatened with annexation into the town of Pottersville (an obvious allusion to the movie It’s a Wonderful Life). To do so, they need to put on the church’s annual Christmas pageant to draw tourists to raise money for operating Christmas Lake. But, with most of the townsfolk down with the goats’ flu, there are only a handful of people available to perform in the pageant.

In Christmas Lake I, Colin and Tess were the major characters, but the reality was that Martha and Neil stole the show from them. In Christmas Lake II, it is apparent from the very beginning that Martha and Neil are the central characters and deservedly so. While certain actors from Christmas Lake I are back, the role of Martha this year was taken over by Carolyn Trapskin. It was initially hard to adjust to Trapskin since, when Jessie Rae Rayle played Martha last year, Martha’s strange facial expressions provided much of the humor in the show. Although Trapskin plays a different type of Martha, she eventually won me over with her portrayal of a strong Martha who is the object of three men’s affection. Ryan Nelson nicely reprises his role as Martha’s heartthrob Neil. Mary Fox plays Tess and her best bits occur when she reluctantly performs in the Church Christmas pageant. J.C. Lippold plays Colin and Colin’s straight arrow performance plays better as a supporting role than when it was the lead in Christmas Lake I. Lippold even manages to steal the scene when he steps out in the role of Christmas Tree in the pageant.

New characters in this production include Andy Frye as Joey Deschantel, a Christmas Lake native who went off to Hollywood only to return as a location scout for a remake of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. His true motivation, however, was to follow through on his unrequited feelings for Martha. Gary DuBreuil plays multiple characters including the lonely volunteer police officer Gunther who also makes a play for Martha. 

Unlike Christmas Lake I which was slow to warm up, the laughs start early in Christmas Lake II and keep going throughout the show. Last year many of the laughs essentially came from making fun of Martha’s and Neil’s small town ways, but the laughs in the latest production treat Martha and Neil as more fully developed characters rather than as stereotypes with barely a mention of either Martha’s Tater Tot hot dish or her pet lizard.   By far the best scene was the Christmas pageant where the performers tell the story of Jesus’ birth with Dr. Seuss type rhyming. The only disappointment was the obligatory wrap up after the climax scene, which could have been dispensed with. While the play is not great art, it is a very enjoyable evening. 

This production is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you’ll know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

This production can be seen using discount vouchers from the Daily Planet’s Theater All Year program—six vouchers for just $99.

(The Theater All Year program is run independently of the Daily Planet’s editorial coverage, and participation in the program does not affect the likelihood or content of any Daily Planet previews or reviews.)