The estimable Cary Players Community Theatre Company offered a commendable production of Andrew J. Fenady's Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus in the Town Hall Council Chamber. The last performance took place on one of the coldest evenings of the year, thus far.
The venue is tricky, for there's really no platform, no curtain, and not much room, but since the show is cast as "a live radio play" a lot is left to the imagination, and the overall result was charming despite some glitches along the way.
The show was preceded by seasonal music provided by a chorus of 13 singers, festively attired.
The large cast was dominated by Mark Mickunas, as Edward P. Mitchell, the benevolent chief of The New York Sun, Geoff Zieman, as editorial journalist Frank Church, and Alexandra Merz, as Virginia O'Hanlon, whose letter about Santa forms the basis of the plot. The time was 1897, and things were tough then – as now. Virginia's dad James O'Hanlon, out of work, reads day-old papers, concentrating on good news, and has a lot more faith in the press than most folks do today – "If you see it in The Sun," he says, "it's so." He's played with grace and skill by Jeffrey Nugent, his wife, Virginia's mom, by Gayle Robinson, and her brother Sean, by Jayce Kelly. James' pal Dom Donneli, also out of work, is Mark Anderson. The large cast, many of whom take multiple roles, included Pat Berry as the Announcer (and others), Rita Dimoulas as Church's office colleague Andrea Borland, Nate Sepic as the copy boy, Sonia Usatch-Kuhn as Celeste Donneli and Mrs. Goldstein, and Bob Grannan as Cornelius Barrington and Santa, too. This large crowd was held together by director Debra Grannan and bound up in more ways than one by music director Craig Johnson, whose contributions included a whole raft of snippets by famous composers – Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Handel, Schubert, and more – plus Irish songs and ballads. (Those singing commercials for genuine Cary merchants were something else, too!) The stage manager was Carole Kelly. Among the many delights of this show were the sound effects, generated in large measure before our very eyes with a mock door, a wind machine, bells, a typewriter, and more, by "Foley artists" Jon Dietz, Patty Kelly, and Pamela Smith. (The full cast and crew are listed at http://www.caryplayers.org/virginia.html.)
Chances are everyone reading this review will know the heartwarming story. Suffice it to say that Virginia's letter inspires Church to turn his life around – he's veering toward alcoholism (and suicide) in the wake of the loss of his wife and child during an epidemic – and concurrently inspires one of the great editorials of all time.
Drink was – or is – an occupational hazard in the newspaper business, and the instant cure projected here probably isn't realistic. Those glitches, cited at the outset, included an awkward pause or two, here and there, some serious imbalances among the choral ensembles, some people who were hard-pressed to carry tunes, and some ongoing issues with the festively cluttered environment that is the council chamber, but so much of this charming tale is pure magic that we're left to accept the show's message at face value. For sure, those central economic and social issues from long ago continue to command our attention today. Yes Virginia manages to convey a lot of hope for the future, and this rendition surely primed at least some of the attendees to move a step or two closer to a convivial and meaningful celebration of the season. For that, the Cary Players certainly merit our thanks and praise.