With Christmas shows popping up all over the Triangle, Common Ground Theatre of Durham, NC is definitely swimming against the tide with its endearing presentation of Things Can Always Be Worse! — a charming Chanukkah story written by Lois Kipnis. This delightful dramatization of an old Rumanian folk tale has four more performances: at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11 and 18.
Things Can Always Be Worse! is the story of a poor farming family of five living in a small hut in crowded, noisy, increasingly insufferable conditions. When Papa (Jeff Alguire) finally complains to the elderly village Rabbi (John Honeycutt), the wise old man inexplicably tells him to bring his chickens into the house. When Papa gets his fill of feathers and complains a second time, the Rabbi tells him to bring his cow and his goats inside, too. The result is predictable: pandemonium. When the even-more-agitated Papa darkens the Rabbi’s doorstep the third time, the Rabbi reverses his previous advice and tells Papa to evict all the animals. Thus, Papa and Mama (Lisa Klein) and their son Jacob (Kyle Winters) and daughter Rachel (Lindsay Kilgore) and Grandma (Julya M. Mirro) learn an important life lesson: Their claustrophobic living conditions could be worse — much worse — with the addition of their feathered and furry friends!
Lisa Klein and especially John Honeycutt are very good as Mama and Papa; and John Honeycutt is wonderful as the Rabbi, whose decidedly unorthodox approach to what must have been a chronic complaint from members of his synagogue taught them — and everyone who hears or reads or sees the story an important lesson: Don’t complain. Things can always be worse!
Kyle Winters and Lindsay Kilgore were good as the son and daughter who also suffer from the noisy, overcrowded conditions, Julya Mirror is good as Grandma and later as an eccentric Philosopher whom father encounters, and Lisa Klein and Kyle Winters provide crisp cameos as two gossipy women discussing the situation.
The director, assisted by Ezter Julian and Rachel Kindred, does an outstanding job of making this play completely interactive, so small children in the audience can participate by making sounds like barnyard animals, etc. Things Can Always Be Worse! is an amusing story with a serious point, and Common Ground Theatre makes Lois Kipnis’ lovely little fable completely endearing and most entertaining.
Common Ground Theatre presents Things Can Always Be Worse! Sunday, Dec. 11 and 18, at 1 and 3 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $7 ($5 under 18). 919/698-3870.