My Christmas present was dinner and a show with my wife tonight. following is my review of the show and my musing on what I heard in this re-imagined telling of such a familiar story. We’re so used to a sanitized and gentrified Christmas story, but this was human and real, where even a life of faith gets messy and confusing.
We began our evening with the always-delicious food at Thai Kitchen, followed by a smooth and tasty latte from Junction Coffee because we got to the Civic Center early, and finally the reason we were out at all tonight after such a busy day: to experience the musical, “The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph’s Baby.”
River & Rail Theatre Company out of Knoxville brought this little gem of a show to the quaint Freede Little Theatre in OKC. The creative director, Joshua Peterson, who introduced the show, and the writers, Don Chaffer of Waterdeep and Chris Cragin-Day are all Oklahoma Baptist University alumni.
The cast of four (Drew Drake as Joseph, Ellen Nikbakht as Mary, Hannah Jones as Elizabeth/ensemble and Brady Moldrup as Benjamin/ensemble) and the five accompanying musicians (Rachel Parton, music director and player of more instruments than I can name or recognize; Wade Jenkins, percussion; Cameron Mizell, guitar; Travetta Johnson, keys; Xzavian Wrushen, bass) did a remarkable job performing the entire show on stage, no curtains, all just right out there in the open.
Drake and Nikbakht worked wonderfully together, Jones was fantastic in the supporting roles she played and Moldrup was brilliantly comedic. The set was simple and flexible, no extras, just the story. And what a story!
The characters of Mary and Joseph had actual personality. You know, like quirks and flaws and such—things we almost never allow them. There were actually several elements you wouldn’t expect at a Christmas show: silliness, some light cursing, a marriage relationship in the holy family that includes sexuality and strife, and a God who’s there, but somehow doesn’t quite seem like he is. But all the unexpectedness didn’t derail the show’s purpose, it kept it right on track, making the incarnation more accessible, more…incarnational.
The relationship between Joseph and Mary was very relatable: their power struggle; their faith and failures; their learning how to work together while listening to God and trying to figure out how to respond; how they would repeatedly get up on their pedestal, only to be humbled again and thus enabled to take their next steps together.
The other element of this show that really grabbed me was the reality of paradox in living a life of faith:
- God’s messages are so clear; so why can’t we agree on our response?
- Even after God shows up, we’re left asking, “What are we supposed to do now?”
- Our great deliverance won’t be coming through great power—not power as we’ve ever understood it before.
- God seems so distant—even when he’s right there with us.
But in all the paradox, we’re not left in confusion. we’re left with the clear message, “Fear not!”
There was so much of this telling of the Christmas story that was imagined, yet so much truth.
Tickets (Nov. 30–Dec. 3)