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John Dale recalls his childhood home in a picture to his "rented" wife, Anne Weston, and children, Lettie, seated next to him, and Cynthia, left, Jean and Willie. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor (click for larger version)

'Rented Christmas' a holiday gift


Review


December 04, 2013 | 11:28 AM

Christmas carols, the story of the birth of Jesus, the mayhem that often comes with young children and discovering what's important during the holidays are all rolled into Hayswood Theatre's current production, "A Rented Christmas."

Rick Pauley, who last appeared at Hayswood in August in "Sid Crosier: An Unfinished Portrait," is convincing as John Dale, a no-nonsense, single businessman who decides he wants a Christmas like his friend, Fred, and his wife, Clara, have.

"One like I've wanted for a long time," John Dale says when he tells his friend, Fred (played by Thomas Gudding who also provides the lone male voice among the carolers) that he's rented a Christmas, "with five children like you have and a wife."

Anne Weston (Rachel Lynn, a newcomer to the Corydon stage), who runs a shop that advertises it rents anything, signs a contract with Dale but then isn't so sure she can deliver after the acting company she was counting on to help out is unable to supply children due to a measles outbreak.

A phone call to the local orphanage to ask for children to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Dale provides one of the funnier moments of the nearly two-hour play (there is a 15-minute intermission).

Jimmy, who helps Weston's at the rental store and agrees to play one of the children in the "play" Weston designs, knows right away that one "can't buy happiness" despite unlimited financial resources.

Weston turns to Dale's cook, Martha, and housekeeper, Bridget, for insight about her customer in order to give him the best Christmas. Martha is excited about the prospect of Christmas returning to the household, while Bridget is more reserved. Judy Radice plays the somewhat eccentric Martha in her Hayswood debut and gets plenty of laughs, while Debbie Smith portrays a maid who tries to keep control of the household.

During the show's second night, on Saturday, Radice could have projected a little more. Despite sitting in the front row, I sometimes had a little trouble hearing her, especially when her back was more to the 70-seat theatre. And there were a few times when the actors should have waited just a few seconds longer to deliver their next lines in order to be heard over the laughter of the nearly full house.

In addition to Jimmy, the other "rented" children — Jean (Kira Hanger), Cynthia (Lauren Wilkinson), Willie (Morgan Bell) and Lettie (Autumn Smith, Debbie's daughter) — are rambunctious and quickly create chaos in the Dale home. Emily Trinkle, who played Sid Crosier's mother, returns to play Alice Lindsey, the woman from the orphanage who wrangles the children, and serves as assistant director and stage manager.

There's just one problem with Weston's "play": she didn't think about how to end it. And when she attempts to collect payment from Dale, he tells her he's not satisfied with what she provided. However, you'll have to "rent" a seat for one of the remaining performances to see firsthand why.

Fifteen traditional Christmas songs are nicely performed a cappella by Laura Van Fossen (music director), Gudding, Sheryl Scharf (who also makes her debut at Hayswood as a sister from the orphanage; she also created the advent calendar in the theatre) and children Trinity Travis, Tessa Travis, Tabitha Travis, Felicity Travis, Marianne Brown, Natalie Claire, Emily Schroeder and Elizabeth Anderson — to transition between scenes and as street carolers. Van Fossen does a spectacular job singing "Silent Night" in German.

Except for the brief opening scene, which takes place in the rental store, the play takes place in Dale's living room, thus eliminating delays for scenery changes.

"A Rented Christmas" was written by Norman C. Ahern Jr. and Yvonne Ahern based on the short story by J. Lillian Vandervere. Russell Spencer directs the Hayswood Theatre production.

Remaining performances are Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for children and seniors (age 65 and older). For reservations, call 738-2138.

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