You know it’s going to be a long night when Santa Claus goes missing. Either Stage Manager Meaghan Leahy made a whopper of a mistake, or some fiend stole jolly old St. Nick, thus threatening the annual holiday play. That sets the plot for CSI: Christmas Scene Investigators, Encore Stage & Studio’s latest offering, based on a book by Pat Cook. Leahy was cleared by the end of the play.
Director Amanda Nell works with a cast of 21 children to pull off a comedic whodunit the audience loves. Actors range from third graders to two high school freshmen.
The play opens with a school troupe performing a dress rehearsal for A Christmas Carol. Clark, playing Scrooge (Erik Fagerstrom), attempts to bah-humbug Christmas, but he is constantly interrupted. Finally, the practice ends and the cast sings “Deck the Halls,” but the traditional plastic Santa is not on stage. Almost as if on cue the principal Mr. Crunge (Brady Knott) shows up. If Santa doesn’t appear by the end of the day, Crunge threatens to cancel the play.
Mrs. Dickens (Catalina Coronado) calls in the Clue Club – a group of ambitious and eccentric students who take mystery and detection into the realm of science – to find the little fat guy. As club members do their thing, a frantic cast searches the school for the jolly elf. It is nowhere to be found.
Knott is the smallest player in the troupe, but he plays the most powerful character well. Seeing actors who work for extra credit, to win bets and to show off to parents doesn’t sit well with him. The principal wants students to discover what he thinks the true meaning of Christmas is.
Coronado has the most lines by far. She plays the tired teacher/director of the play. Her holiday plans are delayed by the play. Mrs. Dickens keeps the performance moving with her timing.
There are no small roles, only small actors, as Stanislavski once said, and a few actors with smaller parts deserve recognition.
Colin Tomasulo plays Punch, a jock worried about forgetting his lines as Bob Cratchit and blurting out things like “free association” when the urge hits him. His acting adds comic relief. Myrna (Bridget Schaller) brings a little something extra to the story with her crush on “I’ve got a man on it” Duncan (Colin Lee).
Bing (Madeline Florio), Kat (Ella Krauss), Delores (Purvi Oberkisch), Chet (Libby Smith) and Suzy (Janney Cooper) are the logic and reasoning of the performance as the Clue club. They are the glue that ties the show together.
The play is performed on a thrust stage. No mics are used so a voice is occasionally hard to hear when an actor is facing away from a side of the stage. This happened rarely.
Other players include Billie, Ione Erber; Phoebe, Tatiana Farrell; Wallace, Noah Golden; Brooke, John Hemmens; Nelda, Virginia Irion; June, Gerta Ploetz; Stephen, Hanson Rajmaira; Ms. Pertwee, Carleigh Sullivan; Mrs. Liles, Elena Wear; and Nancy, Margaret Yocobucci. Catch the young cast in action through December 15 at Arlington’s Gunston Arts Center.
Running Time: One hour and 10 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
CSI: Christmas Scene Investigators, presented by Encore Stage & Studio, plays through December 15, 2019, at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre 2, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets online.
Costume designer Debra Leonard; Set designer Kristen Jepperson; Lighting designer Gary Hauptman.