Suffer the Little Children to Come to Me. And I do mean SUFFER!!!!!!
Often at Christmas time, we are bombarded with traditional tales about compassion for the less fortunate. Besides the Biblical tale of the pregnant Mary and Joseph, having to give birth in an unhygienic stable without an epidural, there is also the Christmas Carol about Bob Cratchit’s family, who Alfred Doolittle would describe as the “Deserving Poor”.
However, the true test of “Christian” that is to say Humanitarian values is whether one can feel compassion for the “Undeserving poor.” We all know it is easy to feel compassion for people like Tiny Tim and babies born in stables, but can we feel compassion for the “Undeserving Poor”?. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, now playing on Saturday and Sunday matinees at Seattle Public Theatre addresses just this dilemma.
Adapted into a play in 1982 at the Seattle Children’s Theatre from Barbara Robinson’s 1971 short story and later book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever ( also titled The Worst Kids in the World) this play perhaps carries the most relevant Christmas message of all the Christmas plays I have ever seen.
In the story, the worst kids in the world, all belong to a family, named Herdman, of the “undeserving poor” variety. In Marxist nomenclature one would call them the lumpenproletariat, in today’s jargon, they would be called “welfare recipients” or “white trash”. Comprised of four strong boys and two girls, they do all sorts of dastardly things: smoke cigars-even the girls, shoplift, bully other kids, and steal other kid’s desserts from their lunch boxes. In short they are the terror of the small town.
Until one day they learn that they can get all the dessert treats they want at Sunday school; so intent on free food they crash it. As luck would have it, it is the day that a substitute director is casting the annual Christmas pageant.
The result is a fair amount of bedlam, fear on the part of the congregation, as the Herdman’s all claim the best parts in the pageant and reveal their total ignorance of the Bible and the very existence of Jesus. However, in playing the part of Mary, Imogene Herdman is moved by the singing and the Herdman clan all become a little bit more civilized, while the congregation becomes much more accepting and tolerant.
Along the way, the audience is entertained by a lot of humor, and moved to tears by compassion and redemption. There were some fine performances by Jasmine Anderson, who narrates it to the audience, by Shermona Mitchell, as Mrs. McCarthy who delivered her lines as a respectable matron with sheer comedic genius and by Elora Marie Coble as Gladys, the youngest of the Herdman clan, who plays a very irreverent angel.
It is a good solid production and mercifully short, less than one hour so it is perfect for children. Demonizing the other, reducing people to stereotypes and refusing to see “the other” as an individual, is something that has become popularized nowadays. The Best Christmas Pageant teaches us all a lesson about that. Take your children, it is The Best Christmas Show Ever, and my all time favorite.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Seattle Public Theatre. The Bathhouse Theatre. 7312 W. Green Lake Drive N. Seattle ( on the Western Edge of Green Lake) Sat and Sun matinees. 2pm and 4 pm. Tickets: www. Seattlepublictheatre.org Parking available in the lot