Two Festive Plays Open in Downtown Hillsboro, Offering Something for Everyone this Holiday Season
By Amber McIlwain
Downtown Hillsboro has two holiday productions to delight local theatergoers, each a sequel to a classic story. Bag&Baggage Productions presents Who’s Holiday! at The Vault Theater, a raunchy follow-up to Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre (HART) presents Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a holiday-themed spinoff of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Both plays opened last weekend and offer something for everyone this holiday season.
Matthew Lombardo’s Who’s Holiday! introduces audiences to a grown-up Cindy Lou Who as she prepares to host a Christmas Eve party some 40 years after the Grinch stole everyone’s Christmas. Cindy Lou is down on her luck and probably down to her last can of Who-hash, but she has a stash of another kind of hash and a wild story to tell, more naughty than nice. This adults-only one-person show is a bawdy holiday comedy that somehow manages to convey the spirit of the season. The play is tasteless and irreverent and totally bizarre and yet also sentimental and heartwarming and strangely sweet.
In the program, Director Melory Mirashrafi describes the play as “a raucous, nonstop roller coaster of chaos—it’s got music, comedy, lots of joy, and a whole lot of camp!” It’s all that and more. And Mirashrafi’s creative choice to celebrate the art of drag in this holiday show is the plum on top of the Who-pudding.
A one-person show is only as good as the person performing it. Alec Cameron Lugo (aka Quesa D’Mondays) commands the stage for an impressive 70 minutes as Cindy Lou Who. Lugo is quick on their feet, never missing a rhyming beat or an opportunity to engage the audience, who come along for the highs and rock bottom lows of Cindy Lou’s story. It is an outrageous performance that will likely grow and deepen with each show.
The set by Scenic Designer Kyra Sanford and props by Properties Designer Signe Larsen are the epitome of Seussical kitsch. The attention to detail is delightfully inane—one might even catch a glimpse of what looks like a Who-roast-beast in the fridge. The lighting, by Mandy Khoshnevisan (who also did the costume design), and sound, by Matt Rowning, complete the immersive experience, bringing the audience into Cindy Lou’s living space. It’s not necessarily a cozy Christmas Eve spent with Cindy Lou, but it’s a heartwarming and hilarious one.
The Bennet sisters offer a cozier Christmas, though not without its own brand of drama, in Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The story picks up two years after Pride and Prejudice ends, taking place at Pemberley Estate as Fitzwilliam (Zachary Marshall) and Elizabeth Darcy (Hannah Brown) prepare to host a family Christmas gathering. The first act introduces a parade of guests. Jane (Julianne Robinson), the eldest Bennet sister, and her adoring husband, Charles Bingley (Arun Kumar), arrive with bookish middle-sister Mary Bennet (Adrianna Denslinger). They are joined by Lydia Wickham (Anika Hyatt), the flirtatious youngest sister, and Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Arthur de Bourgh (Daniel Escobedo), a painfully shy bachelor with a newly inherited title of nobility. Mary and Aurthur bond over their mutual love of books, but the unexpected arrival of cousin Anne de Bourgh (Isabella Steele) threatens to end the budding romance before it has a chance to bloom.
Director William Crawford presents a play that honors Jane Austen’s charm and humor while maintaining a modern sensibility. Familiarity with the characters and events from the novel will help in understanding some of the characters’ traits and motivations, but it is not required to follow the plot or enjoy the play. Contemporary audiences will relate to central character Mary’s frustrations, hopes, and journey of self-discovery.
The cast does a commendable job of bringing these beloved characters to life on the stage. It’s an ensemble that works well together while also giving room for each character’s personality to shine. Adrianna Deslinger gives an especially emotional performance as Mary; her transformation is the heart of the story. Anika Hyatt notably captures the charismatic impulsiveness of Lydia; she remains an agent of chaos. Anika Johnson doesn’t have a single line as the house servant, but she has a sizable comedic presence.
The stunning set, designed by director William Crawford, is in the style of the period, giving the audience a window into the Darcys’ stately drawing room. A Christmas tree provides the stage with a focal point and is a running gag throughout the play. The costumes and props by Beth Self give credence to the Regency era setting, and the lighting design by Jermey Ollis and sound design by Harrison Butler round out the holiday ambience. Keith Self’s music formatting is seamless. Music is central to the play. Mary is often found sitting at the piano, her playing reflecting her emotional state. Miss Bennet is a charming play that will fill audiences with holiday cheer.
Both plays run through Sunday, December 17. Head to bagnbaggage.org, email [email protected], or call (503) 345-9590 ext. 1 to purchase tickets for Who’s Holiday! Purchase tickets for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley online at www.hart-theatre.org or call (503) 693-7915.
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