Thursday, October 02, 2014

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Time Out Theater Review: "A Civil War Christmas"

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Off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop is offering up a piece of holiday theatre with an historical bent, a new work from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel called "A Civil War Christmas." Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.

It’s the holidays, and families have no shortage of seasonal entertainment. You can take the kids to the Grinch, Elf, A Christmas Story or the Rockettes.

What we don’t have are enough smart and intimate Christmas shows to make kids think. So let’s welcome Paula Vogel’s "A Civil War Christmas" as a nourishing yuletide alternative.

Weaving together enough characters and narrative strands to make up a TV miniseries, "A Civil War Christmas" is set on Christmas Eve, 1864, toward the end of our nation’s bloodiest domestic conflict.

Adopting a story-theater approach, with actors juggling multiple roles and speaking narration, Vogel casts a wide net. We see a war-weary President Lincoln try to forget his troubles and locate a present for his moody wife, Mary. We follow the progress of a vengeful African-American Union soldier whose wife was abducted by Texans. There’s a young black girl, daughter of an escaped slave, who wanders the freezing-cold streets of Washington D.C. in search of help.

Vogel connects these disparate threads with touching renditions of popular Christmas carols such as O Tannenbaum and Silent Night. While director Tina Landau’s cast is uniformly appealing and versatile, the piece drags in its second half, and becomes more emotionally manipulative than it need be.

Although it suffers from a surfeit of good intentions, "A Civil War Christmas" is a worthy choice for parents who want to feed their children more than empty, sugary calories.

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