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Mitchell ACT play review of 'Miracle on 34th Street'

“Miracle on 34th Street” is a story about belief. Every day our belief systems are challenged by what we see and hear online and on cable news. What is “real?”

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Court TV was not even a “thing” back in 1947 when Valentine Davies wrote the story “Miracle on 34th Street.” The idea of a high-profile trial testing the authenticity of Santa Claus was purely the stuff of fiction. Mitchell Area Community Theatre and first-time director Darci Vermeulen have staged the Mountain Community Theatre’s adaptation for a modern audience who are familiar with the “theater” of the courtroom.

The story follows a dignified and kindly older gentleman who may or may not be suffering from the delusion that he is Father Christmas. Kris Kringle, an ACT favorite, Kevin Carroll, is recently released from a mental health treatment facility and happens upon a timely opening for a store Santa at Macy’s on 34th Street in New York.

Skeptical, nonbelieving executive Doris Walker, played by ACT veteran Laretta McPeek, has instilled her doubt in her daughter Susan (Isabella Husmann). Devin Carey plays neighbor and attorney Fred Gayley who is committed to helping Kris to prove his true identity and tries hard to get Doris and Susan to trust in Kringle as well. And, in an ironic twist, it is the US Postal Service that saves Kris and Christmas.

A no-nonsense judge, the wonderfully cast Jessica Rezac, a sharp-tongued prosecutor (Amelia Morkve-Stirling) and a large supporting cast, including a trio of lively “elves,” spend most of the second act using the courtroom as a place to prove that the spirit of Christmas and Kris are very real indeed. Several veterans of ACT productions are joined with some newcomers and a youth company of seven young actors to round out the busy production.

Carey’s set and lighting design bring the lively Manhattan streets to life. The courtroom is a detailed reproduction of old-time movie courtrooms with a high bench for the judge, lawyers practicing at the bar and a witness stand. The Macy’s display windows are a clever design which rotate to serve other purposes. The lighting enhances the holiday feel, especially when the youth company and guests perform vocal numbers. One of my personal favorite effects of the holiday season, the snow machine, helps close the show’s happy ending.

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Ruth Sejnoha has once again provided costumes that reinforce the action. Of note is the large ensemble scene that opens the show with busy pedestrians on the street in all manners of dress. Santa and his elves are outfitted in typical holiday finery.

“Miracle on 34th Street” is a story about belief. Every day our belief systems are challenged by what we see and hear online and on cable news. What is “real?” Would any of us believe it if Saint Nick showed up in our midst claiming to be authentic? And in a court of law, or in the court of public opinion, would we find a way to make sure that Santa stays with us each Christmas? It is my hope that this season you will take time away from the screen, away from the screech. Take a child to see this show and you’ll find yourself believing in holiday magic once again.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, December 10, and Saturday, December 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 12, 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.

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