Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THE BUTTERFINGERS ANGEL... • Stray Dog Theatre

William Gibson wrote this play with music in 1975 for his church, to be performed in their annual Christmas pageant.  The full title, "The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree", is Gibson's wacky take on the Nativity story -- perfect for this season of holiday offerings.

Beginning with the cast entering and singing the lyrics, "Fill the stage with bits of folly…" to the tune of "Deck the Halls", you get an idea of what the evening will hold.  The Annunciating Angel (Joseph Corey Henke) has been sent to earth, loaded down with a horn that he's not very good at playing and a script he's desperately trying to follow, with orders to give news of a very special birth that's about to take place.  Our butterfingers angel is a little on the clumsy side, but he's determined to see his task through to the end even though he's got his fair share of challenges, starting with immediate tension with a belligerent tree (Alyssa Ward), who winds up filling an important role in the story.
(l to r) Sarajane Alverson (Woman 2), Ashley D. Alcamo (Woman 1),
Alyssa Ward (The Tree), Colleen M. Backer (Mary),
and Stephen Peirick (Joseph).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Not only is there the tree to contend with, but Mary (Colleen M. Backer), practical and indifferent, wants nothing to do at all with the older carpenter Joseph (Stephen Peirick), who is quite smitten with her.  Mary freaks out when the angel tells her that she's gonna have a baby, and after calming down a bit, she warns him about her brutish family of 17 that will most likely try to cause problems.  Then we've got Herod the Nut (John Reidy) who's willing to go to any lengths he can to stop the birth of this Savior he's been hearing about.  The animals, all played by really cute kids, play their parts in the story, and throughout the play we're treated to twelve Christmas tunes.  The well-known journey, of course, ends inside a modest manger with wise men, sheep and an unusually bright star.

Alyssa Ward (The Tree), Joseph Corey Henke (Butterfingers Angel),
Stephen Peirick (Joseph), Kevin Connelly (Donkey)
and Colleen M. Backer (Mary).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You can see how this play was a hit when it was presented at Gibson's church.  As a play, it comes off as more than a little offbeat, and a couple of Gibson's bits go on a tad too long, but by giving a voice to the trees and the animals, this play, under the skillful direction of Gary F. Bell, humanizes all living things, and hey!  That's ideally what the holidays should be about, right?!  The kids all did a fantastic job, with a little shout out to Kevin Connelly as the literally put-upon donkey.  Backer gives Mary a natural, candid off-handedness that makes this every-day-gal soon to be the mother of the Christ child engaging and very funny.  Peirick also gives Joseph a relatable touch, constantly wondering who the real father of Mary's baby is, even suspecting this angel who seems to be always by her side.  Henke is goofily endearing as the butterfingers angel, and the supporting cast all did a fine job.  John Reidy, in addition to playing The Man in Grey, had a tall order to fill as the completely insane King Herod, and does a wonderful job in a scene that threatens to go overlong.  Mitch Eagles, Jan Niehoff and Andrew S. Kuhlman also did good work in weird roles as Mary's caveman brothers, and later as the not so wise Wise Men that head off following a star in the East.  Sarajane Alverson and Ashley D. Alcamo beautifully lend their vocal talents throughout, along with Adam Rugo on the guitar (working in the carols from the title), and while Bell's set is simple, it provides a large playing space for the cast, with nice touches from Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's vibrant costume design and Tyler Duenow's lighting design.

Mitch Eagles, Jan Niehoff
and Andrew S. Kuhlman.
Photo credit: John Lamb

In the midst of so many holiday shows happening right now, for a silly take on the Christmas story with a touching and compassionate center, head down to Tower Grove Abbey this weekend to check it out.


THE BUTTERFINGERS ANGEL, MARY & JOSEPH, HEROD THE NUT, & THE SLAUGHTER OF 12 HIT CAROLS IN A PEAR TREE

Written by William Gibson
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through December 21 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday, December 21 at 2pm

Cast:
Joseph Corey Henke (Butterfingers Angel), Colleen M. Backer (Mary), Stephen Peirick (Joseph), John Reidy (The Man in Grey/King Herod/Courier), Alyssa Ward (The Tree), Mitch Eagles (King 1/Lout 1/Soldier 1), Jan Niehoff (King 2/Lout 2/Soldier 2), Andrew S. Kuhlman (King 3/ Lout 3), Ashley D. Alcamo (Woman 1), Sarajane Alverson (Woman 2), Grace Clark (Girl), Olivia Light (Cow/First Child), Kevin Connelly (Donkey/Second Child - Act 1) and Ellie Lore (Sheep/Second Child - Act 2).

Creative:
Costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; scenic design by Gary F. Bell; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; musical direction by Adam Rugo; stage manager, Justin Been.

Musicians:
Adam Rugo (troubadour).

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