I haven't seen 'em all, but I don't think I've thoroughly disliked any entry from Lamb's Players Theatre's Festival of Christmas cycle. The shows are loopy with religious overtones, and that may raise red flags among you naughty secularists out there. But c'mon—if ever there's a de facto producer of pieces on man's best potentials and worst realities, it's God. Besides, Lamb's laid a claim to technical excellence eons ago; put 'em together, and you have an entertaining distraction, one that's become a regional tradition since its inception 30 years ago.
The group's current Angel's Arms is a marvelous show in its own right. Writer/director Kerry Meads' characters are as disparate as you and me, yet their focus is always on the story and the action rather than on themselves. Meads shrewdly keeps her references to Jesus at bay, developing them in earnest only after she resolves a solid understory about an old romance. Such forethought is only one element in a Lamb's piece unmatched in production values and philosophical scope since 2005's Metamorphoses, the single greatest show in the history of the universe.
Christmas eve brings British novelist Jeffrey Scott (Jon Lorenz) to the Angel's Arms inn in a fit of abandon. He's got a suckoid case of writer's block, and he's hoping this roily coastal locale will get the juices flowing. He and innkeeper Mrs. Boswell (Chrissy Reynolds Vögele) witness his story come to life—on Dec. 24, 1851, seafarer John Shelly (Nathan Peirson) reunites with Priscilla Harris (Sandy Campbell), whom he was supposed to marry at the inn years ago. To reveal the upshot would spoil stuff for ya; suffice it to say that Peirson and Campbell are outrageously adept here. It's clear their characters have come a long way since their days of youthful impulsiveness, and Meads has fueled their meeting accordingly and without the slightest hint of fault.
The scenes involve any number of subplots, like Andrew Hill's jealousy over fiancée Lisley Witherspoon's connection with Matthew Mountport (Patrick J. Duffy), Shelly's shabby second. These interludes are exactly what the other characters need for their own development—and Fred de Berg and Season Duffy are exactly what the other interludes need in kind. Characters peel off one another, bobbing and weaving in a dance of solidarity, with tunes like “What Child is This” and “Love Was Born on Christmas Day” punctuating the story like so many fervent prayers “that God would [come to] understand our pain—that God would bear the weight of our sins.”
Costumer Jeanne Reith is always so good it makes me sick, and this time is no different. The characters' disparateness works in her favor, as young Rosemary and Charlotte MacNeil (Kaitlyn Nicole Terrill and Whitney Fortmueller) swirl about in their preppy floor-length attire, while their guardian Nicholas Cobham (an excellent Leonard Patton) and the other men tend toward the dark and ominous. Lorenz's musical direction is the common denominator among these visuals, and his work is as adept as Reith's.
The thing about God is He's too picky to sit through any of His own plays. Look at His latest showcase, which features each of the world's 6.3 billion performers in starring roles—one little fuck-up like 9/11 or the 2000 general election, and the Guest of Honor beats feet in a colossal hissy-fit. How totally cool that Lamb's is around, serving up the hopeful side of the ledger, amid such expertise to boot. Wonderful stuff.
This review is based on the matinée performance of Dec. 13. Angel's Arms runs through Dec. 28 at the Paul and Ione Harter Stage, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado. $20-$56. 619-437-0600 or www.lambsplayers.org.