Beasley’s Christmas Party
"Beasley's Christmas Party" at Taproot Theatre Company is a sweet tale full of warmth and cheer. Adapted for the stage by C.W. Munger from the story written by Booth Tarkington in 1909, Beasley's Christmas Party keeps its high literary tone and period feel, but allows the actors to bring to life a variety of quirky characters.
Frank Lawler as Booth, the narrator of the story who puzzles over the mystery of his odd neighbor, has the unenviable task of creating the scene and moving the action along via lengthy monologues, which felt lifted directly from the original short story.
It must have been a tremendous feat of memory for him, but, while the language is beautiful, it did a disservice to the show as a whole by serving almost as a bedtime story for the audience. If I could change one thing in the play, it would be to wish that Munger had taken a little more liberty with the narrative structure to bring it to the stage.
Having said that, the characters in the play are a true joy, and the story is warm-hearted and charming. Booth is a newspaper journalist who has recently moved into a boarding house in Wainwright, Indiana, right next door to the very popular but mysterious and taciturn politician, David Beasley.
Beasley is known throughout the town for his reticence, but Booth witnesses him across the fence engaged in lively conversation! The only trouble: there's no one else there!
As Booth investigates, he develops a friendship with Beasley, discovering the depth of character in the man and the very excellent reasons for his antics with imaginary people: bringing happiness to a small sick child in his care.
The delightful role shifts among the characters work especially well. Don Brady is Beasley, Lisa Peretti is Miss Apperthwaite, Beasley's ex-fiancee, and Aaron Lamb is Mr. Meyers, a friend of Beasley's. But the three actors also play a variety of other townsfolk, slipping easily in and out of both costume and character, sometimes even playing each other's characters!
Director Scott Nolte has done a fine job with pacing the changes: they aren't seamless, because then they wouldn't be as funny as they are. At one point Lisa Peretti has a black shawl, a cap and a cane as an old widow woman, but quickly tosses her cap onto Booth and hands him the cane so that he can take over playing the older woman while she slips back into Miss Apperthwaite.
Another fine moment has Don Brady playing a rival politician, complete with floppy hat and recognizable posture and gestures, then handing the role over to Aaron Lamb, who takes over with the same hat and the same body language.
And oddly enough, part of the fun comes from the imaginary characters, created quite effectively in the audience's imagination by the real characters' interactions with them. Frankly, I would have been happy to let the plot go by the wayside and just watched the endearing spectacle of three grown men in 1909 having conversations and interactions with their imaginary friends.
There's a lovely moment when Booth has been introduced to several of these imaginary people for the first time, and the child says, "Now let's all go play charades!" and you can see Booth trying to figure out how charades with imaginary people might work out, but gamely going along to give it a go.
The set (designed by Mark Lund) deserves a nod for its cleverness and simplicity. The play itself has a feeling of warmth to it, which Lund has echoed and enhanced in the set. With a simple wooden framework built to be both windows for people to peer in or out of, or the exterior of a house looking in a drawing room, the set is pleasing to look at, as well as functional for the various locations in the play.
And, as Booth says in the beginning, it really does "look like a house where people played charades."
"Beasley’s Christmas Party" runs through December 30 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th Street in Seattle. For info or tickets call 206-781-9707 or visit Taproottheatre.org.