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ACT REVIEW: A warm, wonderful holiday show

Trends. We are all familiar with the term in this day and age of instant social media. What's trending on Facebook? What must-watch video is circulating on YouTube? What influencer is taking over Instagram? One trend we should never dispense with is the writing and staging of heartfelt Christmas stories. The tale of little Virginia O'Hanlon's letter to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897 is one such story. Mitchell Area Community Theatre offers this warm and wonderful show for the holiday season.

Directed by veteran Vicki Lee Hansen, "Yes, Virginia" is a novel offering consisting of a set of short vignettes that depict Virginia's struggle to believe in Santa, despite the intrusions of the harsh world. (Full disclosure: I directed a different version of this same play for ACT in 2004.) The current version is a script by Jamie Gorski published in 2008. Virginia is blessed with a warm home, an intact family and all the trimmings to make a memorable Christmas. Her young friend, Mary Lou, suffers a different fate. Virginia writes her famous letter questioning Santa's existence to Francis P. Church at the Sun and receives the iconic reply that will be read by millions over the next century and beyond.

The cast is composed of a number of extraordinary child actors including Kate Ahlers (Virginia), Kayleigh Royston as her sister, Samantha, and the talented Claire Steffes as Mary Lou. The adults include Virginia's parents (Tim Goldammer and Laretta McPeek); reporter Church (newcomer Christian Clairmont) and AJ Bierman as the Sun's publisher. Bierman appeared in the 2004 production, as well. Hansen's principals and a cast of extras set up the action and close the show using a Greek-chorus structure.

The vignette nature of the script lends itself to a creative set of wheeled modules which make up the set. Designed by Devin Carey, along with his lighting, the modules create a home, an office, a park and a soup kitchen. Since each box has three sides, the pieces can be moved and turned to create a variety of effects. The costumes and set pieces by Ruth Sejnoha, Noel Ahlers and Hansen are perfectly matched to the period. One lovely touch is the lighting of the candles in the final scene when we hear the content of Church's reply to Virginia. Also, unique cast photos embellish the playbill.

The play is short, running just under one hour. By way of an overture, Hansen has invited several local musicians to treat the audience to vocal Christmas music. The show closes with the entire cast singing a couple of holiday favorites.

My own holiday "trends" include decorating, baking, letter writing, shopping and gift wrapping. I try to avoid the newest electronic fad or soon-to-be-cast-aside toy in favor of gifts that will withstand the passage of time. ACT's tradition of staging a Christmas play and our community's support of these performances is one trend of which I am proud to be part. Allow "Yes, Virginia" and one little girl's belief in Santa to warm your heart this holiday season.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec 9, at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.