Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Olympia Family Theater’s Holiday show

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 17, 2015
Korja Giles as Lucy and  Isaac McKenzie Sullivan as Charlie Brown. Photo by Dinea DePhoto
Olympia Family Theater’s A Charlie Brown Christmas is the same show that’s been running on television as an animated story every Christmas season since 1965. I would venture to guess that at least 90 percent of the adults who bring their children to see this show have already seen it, as have a lot of the children. It doesn’t matter if it’s not original; children love to see their favorite TV shows come to life on the stage. There’s a special kind of thrill that comes from knowing what’s going to happen next and then seeing that indeed it does, just as you expected.
This production of A Charlie Brown Christmas is a fun show for all ages, but it does not quite come up to the level of excellence I have come to expect of Olympia Family Theater. With a few wonderfully obvious exceptions, these lovable characters come across as slightly wooden. That’s not the fault of the cast or the director, Jen Ryle. It is that other than Charlie Brown (Isaac McKenzie Sullivan), Lucy (Korja Giles), Snoopy (Jesse Morrow), and to a lesser degree Linus (Steven Wells) and Sally (Mandy Ryle), these cartoon characters brought to life, do not provide the actors a lot to work with.
But about those exceptions — wow! How good they are. Sullivan truly embodies the spirit of Charlie Brown, the put-upon blockhead who gets depressed every Christmas season, never gets a Christmas card and can’t abide the commercialization of the holiday. Who can’t identify with that?
Giles is marvelous as the self-satisfied, smarty pants, Lucy. She is as expressive as any of the best actors I’ve seen on stage, displaying a broadly comical range of facial expressions and physical gestures that perfectly capture the infuriatingly impish Lucy.
Perhaps most enjoyable of all, as he is in the cartoon, is Snoopy the all-too-human dog. Morrow, a newcomer to Olympia, shows a repertoire of physical moves that are as delightful as those of silent movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keeton. If Morrow does not dance professionally, she probably should. She’s definitely got the moves.
Mandy Ryles doesn’t have many moments in the spotlight, but when she does, she milks them for all they’re worth, and Wells does a great job portraying poor Linus with his admirable sincerity and his ever-present security blanket.
“Peanuts” creator Charles Schultz is as much philosopher and psychologist as he is cartoonist, and his stories always have a deeper message than what appears on the surface, which is why they appeal to adults as much as to children. The message of this show is that the true meaning of Christmas is love for one another.
People who believe in the birth of Jesus story from the Bible will love that it is given prime importance in this production. I wonder, however, how Jewish or Muslim or other non-Christian audience members will react. I guess that since the story is so well known, they should know what to expect and how to talk about it with their children.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a short show. The matinee I attended started at 2 p.m., and by the time I walked to my car six blocks away it was only 3:12, and that included an intermission and a brief sing-a-long before the second act.
As of Monday of this week all shows are sold out, but the theater hopes to add one show the final weekend, so calling in advance of going is a must.

A Charlie Brown Christmas  runs Thurs.-Fri., 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m.  through Dec. 20, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638

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