‘A Revolutionary Christmas’ at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre

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A Revolutionary Christmas, directed by Suzanne Beal, is a hilarious and heartwarming original Christmas play. Written by Reiner Prochaska, the show is a Maryland Ensemble Theatre original production and was a very inspired and refreshing story for the fast-paced, hectic holiday season.

Todd Mazzie (Richard). Photo by  Joe Williams.
Todd Mazzie (Richard). Photo by Joe Williams.

Set in Frederick County on Christmas Eve in 1778, the Kober family, a German farm family composed of a grandfather, widowed mother, and two children, are eagerly awaiting their uncle and son Richard’s return from the war. Hoping he will make it home in time for Christmas dinner, the family is more than surprised when he does arrive home on time, escorting in a Hessian prisoner of war at gunpoint, who is forced to stay for the family’s Christmas celebration because of a severe snowstorm. Family tensions rise and traditions are tested when father and son have differing political views and the Hessian soldier attempts to share his memories and cultural traditions with the family.

Caitlyn Joy was an excellent mother as the only adult female character in the show. Her practical and strong-willed, yet still incredibly vulnerable, maternal role as Glenda added a great amount of emotional depth to the show.

The children performers portraying Fiona and Johann were adorable and had an incredible stage presence. Fiona (played by Chloe Johnson at this performance, role shared with Cassidy Hillman) was very sweet and had a great sense of deadpan comedy when teasing her younger brother. Likewise, Johann (played by Daniel Pluckett at this performance, role shared with Wilson Seltzer) was very energetic and sincere. He had some wonderfully poignant moments in the show. Both child actors should be commended for impressively performing large roles in an ensemble show for an adult main stage production.

Todd Mazzie was very reserved and tragic as uncle Richard. He added great dimension and character choices to a difficult role. Steve Custer was excellent as prisoner of war Peter. Custer had a wonderful stage presence with a natural charisma to make the enemy character instantly likeable, only enhanced by his awesome comedic timing. Ironically, the enemy prisoner was more charismatic and immediately relatable than the cold, stoic home front uncle, at first.

Reiner Prochaska as grandfather Franz was immensely talented. As a hard working, immigrant farmer, Prochaska was endearing. His scenes with his grandchildren were touching to watch and the tense moments when he fought with his son over their political beliefs and disagreements over how to treat prisoner Peter were stunning.

A Revolutionary Christmas featured numerous comical one-liners and sparkling, witty dialogue. Certain moments, when the comedy stemmed entirely from the irony of the situation (such as prisoner Peter’s opening line of “Happy Christmas Eve. It smells delicious in here” upon entering the house at gunpoint) were delightful to witness. The only disappointment to the story is that the fate of one of the characters is left unresolved at the end of the show. After the incredible story and heartwarming journey of the production, it would be great to know what exactly happens to that specific character after Christmas Eve passes by.

The show is set in Frederick County in 1778 and extraordinary detail was placed into the set design, props and costumes. The dual sided set, designed by Allison Duvall, featured the family kitchen on the left and living quarters on the right. Every set piece, from the wooden table and shelves to the bed, was well-worn and properly stained. Costumes, designed by Julie Herber, were very simple and authentic to the period. Costumes were also incredibly detailed and designed to look “lived in”, such as the girls’ fraying skirts or the men’s mended jackets with patches. The lighting design by Doug Grove was very simple and scarce, with no fancy effects or complicated designs to distract from the story.

Extremely special mention goes to Tracey Pluckett, Katie Rattigan, Joann Lee, Rona Mensah, and Doug Grove on props and Pat Ogden as dramaturg. This was a very prop-heavy show, especially scenes in the kitchen involving cooking Christmas dinner, and the props team made sure every kitchen utensil, gun, knitting needle and countless other items were authentic to the period and properly used.

(l to r) Todd Mazzie (Richard), Steve Custer (Peter), and Reiner Prochaska (Franz). Photo by  Joe Williams.
(L to R): Todd Mazzie (Richard), Steve Custer (Peter), and Reiner Prochaska (Franz). Photo by Joe Williams.

At a time of year overcrowded with variations of the normal holiday stories, it was incredibly refreshing and very enjoyable to see an original, world-premiere production set in the historical location it was performed in. A Revolutionary Christmas is a wonderful show to help celebrate the history and beauty of the holiday season in Frederick.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

A Revolutionary Christmas plays through December 28, 2014 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.