'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' returns to Green Lake

With bent angel wings, a decapitated Jesus and a gift of ham, the tradition continues as Seattle Public Theater (SPT) at the Bathhouse presents its fifth-annual production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" through Dec. 24.

The play centers on some Christmas chaos as the Herdmans, six trouble-making siblings on welfare, invade a church production of the traditional Nativity story. Things go awry as they assume all the major roles in the pageant. The story is both humorous and heart-warming, with a few moral lessons.

"I bring the play back because I love the story, because kids grow up into new roles, because it's always fresh with different casts and it's wonderful to establish and be a part of tradition," noted director Shana Bestock in the show's program.

"The experience of working on 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' has affected me in so many ways. There is purpose in it, in reaching out and connecting, in discovering ourselves and those around us, learning about our world and inspiring others to reach inside themselves and give," she explained.

Bestock's history with the play dates back almost 20 years, when she played Gladys Herdman in the first professional production of the show, which also took place in Seattle at the Woodland Park Zoo. Coincidentally, the play's author, Barbara Robinson, earned her first payment for writing in Seattle, from a playwriting contest she entered in college.

"They go together, writing and theater," she said.

Robinson made a special appearance at the theater Friday, Dec. 9, through Monday, Dec. 12, to discuss "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." The holiday story originated as a short story in McCall's Magazine, then Robinson expanded it into a book, then a play and eventually into a screenplay. It has since been recognized all over the world.

"You know you can't plan these things," Robinson said of the story's success. "I've just had such wonderful experiences with this play, the book and these characters."

Robinson noted that if she were to be cast in a production of the show, she would play Mrs. Helen Armstrong, a busybody who usually directs the Christmas pageant but is held up due to medical reasons.

The story is influenced by Robinson's childhood, growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Although it is not based on any one experience in her life, Robinson sheepishly admits that the character Alice, a "squeaky clean" do-gooder, was based on a high-school friend who would chew each bite of her food 25 times.

"I write the way we read, to see what happens next," Robinson said about how she created the script. "There's nothing so hard in this world to write as humor."

Robinson travels to schools all over the nation to discuss her writings, often answering questions about "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

"I always enjoy the chaotic scene when the firemen come. I think it's a lot of fun," Robinson said about the play. "It's always very moving to me when we get to the pageant."

Seattle Public Theater, 7312 W. Green Lake Drive N., will present "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" through Dec. 24, with shows Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 to $20, with group rates available.

SPT patrons also can receive a 20-percent discount on their ticket purchases if they mention King County's Waste-Free Holidays program. For more information, call 524-1300 or visit www.seattlepublictheater.org.

Jessica Davis writes about arts and entertainment for the Herald-Outlook. She can be reached via e-mail at needitor@ nwlink.com.

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