Opening Nights: Beasley's Christmas Party

Taproot's charming take on Booth Tarkington.

If you find that A Christmas Carol isn't quite wholesome enough, then Beasley's Christmas Party may be your best bet for a warm, fuzzy holiday alternative. It's a charming and deeply uncynical adaptation, by C.W. Munger, of a Booth Tarkington story. Tarkington, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote Beasley as a novel in 1909, and it's clear that Munger—a century later—relished his literary style. Part of the play's joy is its embrace of the characters' (now-) anachronistic linguistic prowess.

Told through the eyes of an earnest reporter, Booth (Frank Lawler), the story centers on the mystery of Mr. Beasley (Don Brady), a kindly but kooky old politician who's running for governor yet neither gives speeches nor discusses politics. To get the scoop, Booth moves next door to Beasley—rather like author Joe McGinniss' recent stalking of Sarah Palin for his book. However, Booth is soon befuddled by Beasley's habit of talking to people who, so far as Booth can tell, do not seem to exist. (While I have no solid evidence yet, I suspect that Ron Paul is similarly inclined.) Aaron Lamb and Lisa Peretti fill out Beasley's talented cast. They, with Brady's assistance, inhabit about a dozen different characters, quickly switching hats and accents, sometimes mid-scene.

Directed by Scott Nolte, Taproot's production is quick and intermissionless, running under 90 minutes, nearly all of which are filled with affirmations of holiday spirit and romance. At one point, Beasley's political opponents suggest he's nutty, but that's about as dark as it goes. Beasley might benefit from a few more complications and a few more explanations; but in the end, the play doesn't aspire to be a great mystery. We learn early on that Beasley's onetime fiancee, Anne Apperthwaite (Peretti), left him for fear that he had no imagination. This is his redemption story. Beasley shows us that the power of childlike imagination is alive and well, even in a seemingly dull politician.

 
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