Friday, December 10, 2010

Beatrix Potter's Christmas (1986)

For The Children's Theatre Company's 1986 holiday production, resident playwright Thomas W. Olson created an original fantasy based upon the life and works of English author-illustrator Beatrix Potter. A blend of late 19th-century melodrama and dance, the play is set in the third-floor children's nursery of the Potter home in London, England, on Christmas Eve 1880. Beatrix is a painfully shy, reclusive fourteen-year-old and, along with her younger brother Bertram and an angelic butler, they create for themselves a Christmas celebration by imagining their animal pets and friends celebrating the holiday.
The play was directed and choreographed by Myron Johnson.  Original incidental music was composed and pre-recorded orchestral music adapted by Anita Ruth under the direction of Alan Shorter.  Scenic and properties designs by Jack Barkla.  Costume design by Christopher Beesley.  Lighting design by Michael Murnane.  Sound design by Scott W. Edwards.  Stage Management by Loren Johnson.
The production joined CTC's continuing Christmas repertoire and was presented again in 1988 and 1992.

Illustration by Beatrix Potter.
Music Excerpts:

Fantasy 1: Mouse House...

Fantasy 2: Puddleducks Parlour...

Country Lane...

Fantasy 3: Kitten Kitchen...

Fantasy 4: Naughty Squirrels A...

Naughty Squirrels B...

Fantasy 5: Bunny Bedroom into Forest Clearing...


Original cast of characters (in order of appearance):
Beatrix Potter, Hilary Cooperman;
Jane Fowler, a maid, Lizanne Wilson;
Miss Mouse, Lynda Miller;
Mrs. Mouse, Meggan McGrath;
Mouse Maid, Zhauna Franks;
Mouse Butler, Manao DeMuth;
Mouse Cook, Mark A. Rudzitis;
Mr. Mouse, Tom Dunn;
Mouse Brother, Kristina Drake;
Mr. Mole, Susanne Anderson;
Bertram Potter, Aaron Kahn;
Mr. Cox, the butler, Gerald Drake;
Mrs. Puddle-Duck, Michael de Leon;
Mr. Puddle-Duck, Kevin Robert McCormick;
Mr. Badger, Zhauna Franks;
Mr. Fox, Mark A. Rudzitis;
Helen Leech Potter, Leslye Orr;
Rupert Potter, Carl Beck;
Mrs. Cat, Tom Dunn;
Mrs. Hedge-Hog, David Fenley;
Kitten Brother; Maryann Smith;
Kitten Sisters, Sarah Bowen, Katy O'Neil;
Squirrels, Mark A. Rudzitis, Maryann Smith;
Shy Bunny, Lynda Miller;
Uncle Rabbit, Carl Beck;
Bunny Brother, Sarah Bowen;
Bunny Sisters, Manao DeMuth, Lynda Miller, Katy O'Neil;
Bunny Cousin, Charity Jones;
Mrs. Rabbit, Meggan McGrath;
Otters, Nick Eugster, Willy Eugster;
Ball Mice, Robert Drake, Eric Haugee, Todd C. Johnson, Leslye Orr, Lizanne Wilson;
Ball Kittens, Jessica Daniel, Meredith Orr, Sara Pixley;
Carolers, David Fenley, Timothy Hendrickson, Todd C. Johnson, Bradley Nordstrand, Meredith Orr, James Peck, Sally J. Sundstrom, Rosalie Tenseth.

Violin, Mary Bahr; Cello, Camilla Heller;  Reeds, David Hawley; Bass, Bruce Calin; Keyboards, Anita Ruth;
Percussion, Alan Shorter

Design Note: Although none of the animal characters in the young Beatrix's fantasies are referred to by name in the text of the play, they were regarded visually as the prototypes for the stories and illustrations which would be created and published later in Miss Potter's adult life.  In regards to the settings, elements from Beatrix's nursery were also transposed into the animal fantasies, e.g. her nursery wallpaper appears in the "Mouse Parlour," her stove in the "Cat Kitchen," her closet the wardrobe in the "Bunny Bedroom," etc.

Video Clip 1:

Video Clip 2:

Script Excerpt: 

Act II, Scene iii.

(Scrim rises to reveal a clearing in the forest: an ice-covered country pond where stands a large evergreen tree decorated in natural ornaments and enormous candles.  There are log tables also, laden with refreshments and gifts.  Animals greet one another warmly and dance together.  Squirrels ice skate.  Much gentle merriment.  The Animals' dance is gently interrupted by a summons toward the tree.  It is time to place the star upon its crown and light the candles.  While the Animals reverently gather, Cox, who had left the nursery a while earlier, returns with the valise which holds the duck.)

COX.  Children?  Miss Beatrix, Master Bertram: see who's here come back to join us.
BERTRAM.  Mrs. Puddle-Duck!  Welcome home!  Happy Christmas!
COX.  Yes, "Happy Christmas" indeed!  And with wing on the mend, I expect the old girl ought to be fit as a fiddle and flying by "Happy New Year."
BEATRIX.  Thank you, Mr. Cox.  Thank you so very much.
COX.  My pleasure, Miss Beatrix.
BEATRIX.  In a way, I, too, feel as though a wing were mended.
COX.  A good feeling, I trust.
BEATRIX.  Oh, yes -- such as I've never felt before.  But I'll never fly.
COX.  In body, unlikely.  But in spirit...? (An encouraging smile.)  But now, children -- the tree.  It's nearly midnight.  (Seeing the trimmed tree.)  There, you see?  Although you've never before trimmed a Christmas tree, still you knew -- in your hearts -- precisely what was needed.  Miss Beatrix?  Finished with that star, are you?
(As Cox gestures for Beatrix to step forward, Animals turn to the shy Bunny Sister and coax her to come forth with her ornament.  Bertram begins to light the candles.)
BEATRIX. (Holding her paper star.)  I am.  But now, at the sight of all the candles, at such a lovely tree... I fear my star is far too plain.
COX.  Wrought by your own hand... rendered with love... oh, Miss Beatrix, who could think it anything but wonderful?
BERTRAM.  Come, Bea.  It's time.
(Beatrix steps forward, as does also the Shy Bunny, who hops up a "stairway" made of large Christmas parcels.  Simultaneously, they crown the trees with their stars.  Music swells, chimes ring midnight as Bunny's star sputters and glows -- miraculously transformed.  The night sky twinkles brightly with hundreds of stars.  Animals leap for joy and applaud, embracing the Shy Bunny as Cox and Bertram likewise embrace and congratulate Beatrix.  From out of the chimes, music resumes -- a sprightly dance into which the Animals enter with gusto.  During the Animals' dance, Beatrix, Bertram, and Cox assemble all the pets in their various home-made habitats, around the nursery tree.  When the music alters sweet and gentle again, Animals relax into more lyrical, subdued movement as Beatrix holds her pet mouse close to her bosom.)
BEATRIX.  I was told today I was too old to believe in legends and fairy tales; too old to believe that these creatures could know of Christmas.  But look.  See how they gaze at the tree as we do?  And I can feel this little mouse's heart racing, pounding with the same joy as mine in the wonder of Christmas.  I've never felt this way before, except in my dreams.  Or when I'm drawing: making believe these creatures wear clothes and have thoughts and feelings and hopes like me.
COX.  Keep feeling.  Keep dreaming.  Oh, please, Miss Beatrix -- keep making-believe.
BEATRIX.  (As COX gently takes the mouse from her hands.)  But is it real?
BERTRAM.  Oh, what does it matter, Bea?!
COX.  Some think the miracle of Christmas itself isn't real.
BERTRAM.  Yet millions believe.
COX.  (Rushing from the nursery into the fantasy Animal world.)  I believe!
BERTRAM.  (Following COX.)  And I believe!
BEATRIX.  I want to...
BERTRAM & COX.  (Stretching forth their arms, beckoning.)  Please, Beatrix.  Make believe.
(Animals also gesture for Beatrix to join them.)
BEATRIX.  I will.  I do.  I believe!

(Music rings forth as Beatrix runs down the stairs into her fantasy where Bertram and Cox await.  Animals rush up to welcome her and pay their respects to Beatrix as a dance ensues around the giant Christmas tree, human and animal hand-in-hand as the snow falls and stars blaze in the sky.  Beatrix hugs each of the animals she will one day bring to storybook life, then hugs Cox and her brother Bertram.  She grins and laughs in wonder and joy as music crescendos and lights slowly fade to Blackout.)

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