The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at the Empire Theatre is a trip back to the blissfully ignorant days of pre-politically correct America. It's a true-meaning-of-Christmas story that includes a change of spirit — but maybe not one that's in sync with today's moral sentiments. It's full of laughs, though, and plenty of kid-friendly naughtiness.
The Herdman children, as Beth Bradley (Mackenzie Neal) tells us, are money-stealing, kid-biting, bullying menaces to society. They cause the town to go into a tailspin when they decide to participate in the local church's annual Christmas pageant. The church folk treat the Herdmans as pariahs even though their problems obviously stem from extreme poverty. In the end the Herdman kids are transformed by the Christmas story, thus winning the approval of the town.
The problem is that the congregation lacks a revelation about helping these disadvantaged kids. They are merely glad that the kids have altered their behavior. The story would perhaps be more meaningful if the townsfolk also had a conversion, rather than self-righteous satisfaction in seeing these kids turn themselves around. The story just seems wrong in today's social climate of embracing the individual and giving back to the community.
The youth in the audience loved all of the bad things the Herdmans did. Every kid watching went into hysterics during a scene in which the Herdmans tossed the toy baby Jesus around like a football. Giggles spread through the house after Gladys Herdman (Karsen Strong) let loose a gigantic burp.
Take the children to see this one for some vicarious bad behavior so they can be good before Santa comes. You'll have plenty of food for morality conversation on the way home. S
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson plays at the Empire Theatre through Dec. 21. Tickets are $21-$22. Call 344-8040 or visit http://www.theatreivrichmond.org..