Christmas is the time of faith, fun and
all those sweet and tender sentiments we’re much too cynical
to appreciate during the rest of the year. In 2000, the Ryan
Repertory Company offered us that ultimate tale of misanthropy
and redemption, Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol."
This year they’re back with "The Littlest Angel" by
Charles Tazewell (1900-1972), directed by Carolyn Popadin.
There’s no misanthropy in "The Littlest Angel" (written in 1939 and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time), but there’s plenty of redemption.
The Littlest Angel (the angelic Donika Hasimi) is eager to succeed in heaven but unable to adjust to her new life. She sneezes at inappropriate times, bites her wing tips and can’t learn to sing sweetly or fly straight.
Fortunately, the fledgling angel is comforted and mentored by the Gatekeeper (the ever-earnest James Martinelli) and the Understanding Angel (Allen Lieb). But it’s not until the Heavenly Host is selecting gifts for the Christ child that the Littlest Angel shows his true genius.
He fills a wooden box with his most precious possessions from childhood. And God - a deep, distant voice (Maque Arberman) accompanied by a spotlight - loves the Littlest Angel’s gift more than any other.
The action is augmented by Martinelli narrating and a chorus singing traditional carols. A pale, bluish light and mist created by a steam-making machine hover over a split-level heaven that looks like a kind of church in the sky. And Laura Lowrie’s costumes are, well, heavenly.
The production features a cast of adult senior angels: Denise Cirincione as an older angel, Allison Patrick as the Choirmistress, Zoey Zucker as the Patriarch Prophet, Mike Pasternack as the Flying Master and Gilberte Pierre as the Matronly Angel. They’re joined by child angels Desiree Melendez, Daniel Francis Ojeda and Yulia Shturneva. The kids, of course, steal the show. Kids who are certainly not angels, but are cute, talented and innocent. Because, after all, aren’t they what Christmas is about, anyway?
Parents of other faiths, however, should be forewarned. This is not a story about sugar plum fairies and desperate men realizing that it’s a wonderful life. "The Littlest Angel" is a play much more in the tradition of mystery plays, productions based on the Old and New Testament, presented in front of churches during the Middle Ages. Its message is Christian in both the broad and narrow sense of the word.
These days many children learn about Christmas from Toys ’R’ Us and television specials featuring the characters of Dr. Seuss. Judging by the audience at Ryan Repertory’s Harry Warren Theatre, our children can still be fascinated and enthralled by a Christmas story in the spirit of the one told in the Gospel - in which the lead characters are not animated monsters or friendly cartoons urging us to "buy! buy! buy!," but rather a holy family surrounded by angels, shepherds and wise men.
"The Littlest Angel" plays through Dec. 30, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm and 5 pm. Tickets are $10, $8 children under 8. The Harry Warren Theatre is located at 2445 Bath Ave. at Bay 38th Street in Gravesend. For reservations, call (718) 996-4809 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.