A sarcastic little Christmas
This year’s theatrical holiday surprise is at River Stage. Crib is a pleasing new semi-holiday play by Richard Broadhurst. It takes place at Christmastime, and it has some nice sarcastic comic dialogue. The play moves through the darker side of life (failed family relationships, dishonesty, racial generalizations, homelessness and threats of violence) but leaves room for forgiveness, redemption and recovery. It’s a very nice little package overall, and just the right thing for December.
Actually, dubbing Crib a “theatrical surprise” is probably a disservice to the playwright, because Broadhurst has pulled off this trick before. His play Benched brightened up the Sacramento Theatre Company’s holiday season four years ago. And there are some similarities: Both Benched and Crib feature an older man keeping the world, and painful memories, at bay by living inside a hard shell of crusty bitterness.
Benched featured local professional actor Rod Loomis, who does a capable job directing Crib. Loomis benefits from strong performances from Loren Taylor (an experienced performer who excels at playing the aging curmudgeon) and James Ellison (as an intelligent young man learning to live with a rather large chip on his shoulder). Ellison shows several flashes of intensity and handles several comic confrontations with aplomb; it would be interesting to see what he could do with a larger role someday.
Actress Sonia Pimentel is also good as Mary, a pregnant woman living on the streets. Pimentel’s got a somewhat limited vocal range, and even when she’s standing on tippy-toes, she’s head and shoulders shorter than the two guys. But she converts her stature into an asset through her spunky characterization, which runs the gamut from being warm and friendly to threatening another character with a carving knife.
Costumer Nancy Pipkin contributes a seedy Santa suit and gets lots of mileage out of simple towels and T-shirts, both clean and dirty. Kale Braden’s set evokes aging-bachelor squalor.
If you’re guessing the story ends with a cuddly baby wrapped in a blanket—well, let’s acknowledge that holiday plays, like romantic comedies, feature plot developments that typically can be anticipated. What makes a play like Crib interesting isn’t where the story goes, but the clever way the playwright and director set up the scenes, and the zest that the performers bring to their work onstage. You’d better hurry if you want to see it; the show’s already halfway into its all-too-brief two-weekend run.