The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever 

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, ComedySportz. Best known for its competitive take on Viola Spolin's improv games, Comedy-Sportz is the last group I'd expect to stage a traditional fully scripted Christmas show like this one. Adapted by Barbara Robinson from her own sweet but shallow young-adult novel, it details what happens when the rowdiest family in town infiltrates a church play. But though the story was first published in 1972, it feels more like an artifact of the 1940s, and this cast makes Robinson's amiable but old-fashioned tale even more annoying.

Improvisation is an excellent preparation for actors who want to think on their feet. But if they want to create something long-lasting--multilayered characters or a script that will be funny six months from now--they need other skills. A few of the actors in this large cast have them; Lauren Bishop is both compelling and very funny in her superbly crafted role as one of the rowdy Herdmans. But all too many of the others in this sloppily performed show just skim the surface, trying to win laughs with quirky mannerisms. And a few, like Katherine Gotsick, go to the other extreme and overplay their roles, mugging like crazy in the mistaken belief that if you can't be good, you should be loud. Both choices are wrong for this featherweight play.

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