In just eight years, Open Eye Figure Theatre’s Holiday Pageant has grown from a living-room skit to a full-blown spectacle staged at the Pantages Theatre. Credit the warm collegiality of the Twin Cities theater community—and maybe a little holiday magic—for the fact that it still feels like a family gathering. If you happen to walk into the Pantages lobby with the misconception that you’re in for just another cash-cow holiday show, you’ll be set straight by the smiling “cookie elves” (who include relatives of Open Eye co-founders Susan Haas and Michael Sommers, a married couple) and the exuberant pre-show performance by the Brass Messengers.
|it’s a little early to order your tickets for the 2009 holiday pageant, but in the meantime it’s well worth catching one of open eye’s shows at the company’s home base in the phillips neighborhood. stay tuned to the company’s web site for information.|
The Open Eye Holiday Pageant is inspired by Middle English miracle plays, dramatizations of Bible stories and episodes from the lives of the saints. Miracle plays varied from stark dramas to elaborate spectaculars full of what the Middle Ages had to offer for special effects (lots of water and fire). Some miracle plays doubtless involved, as Open Eye’s Holiday Pageant does, humor involving bodily functions—in what may be the most blasphemous moment in a decidedly irreverent production, Joseph of Nazareth heads offstage to relieve himself and is soon heard to bellow, “It is finished!”—but they probably didn’t include any references to Detroit, or Rachael Ray.
The crowd was well-stocked with repeat viewers, who cheered loudly at the appearance of their favorite characters. Sarah Agnew—who was dazzling in this fall’s undersung Archy and Mehitabel—relishes her dual role as Tuefel the bumbling devil and Matin the bumbling angel, and Luverne Seifert—taking a break from stealing scenes in CTC’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—demonstrates how richly he deserves his job as head of the BA performance program at the U. (I’m sure he’d do well teaching at the graduate level as well, but something about his performance as Tud the horny shepherd leads me to believe he must have a special insight into the undergraduate mentality.) My favorite, though, was local legend Kevin Kling as the confused Joseph. How is a man supposed to feel about his wife being on the receiving end of the Holy Spirit’s virile light?
Having enjoyed the 2007 iteration of the holiday pageant, I was excited this year to bring my cousin Nils, a fifth-grader; truth be told, though, he and the other kids sitting nearby didn’t seem to be quite as enthralled as the adults. I understand why: the action moves fast and the plot is a little confusing, especially given that it’s a story you may think you already know. (Why, again, are the devils happy at God’s decision to send His Son to earth? What’s Father Winter doing hanging out over there? And…hey! Isn’t that lamb supposed to be dead?) Anyway, Nils said he enjoyed it, and I had a great time once again. If you ask me, this is definitely the right way to have a company Christmas party.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.