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Darkness and Light

Old tales illuminated by unexpected insights

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BABE IN ARMS 'Best Christmas Pagent Ever' offers a delightfully subversive take on the holidays.
  • BABE IN ARMS 'Best Christmas Pagent Ever' offers a delightfully subversive take on the holidays.

Cinderella, a beaten-down member of the 99 percent, works her fingers to the bone providing luxuries for her spoiled step-sisters, living off the crumbs left over from their daily servings of birthday cake.

In Crumbs: A Cinderella Story, the Imaginists unleash a modern fable for the post-Occupy age. Inventively and passionately performed—the ensemble taking turns playing musical accompaniment—Crumbs blends elements of dark comedy, political satire and horror with frequent and brilliant alternating flashes of gruesome violence and breathtaking beauty.

Make no mistake, while there are princes and slippers and magic spells, this is no Disney tale. Packed with striking imagery—a tree made of rags, a mountain of cast-off clothes, a butchered goat made of shredded red ribbons—this is more nightmare than fairy tale, a powerful, poetic, deeply angry critique of greed and consumerism, one in which any happy ending comes with a cost.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

The tone is decidedly lighter—but hardly lacking in feeling—in Raven Player's uneven but emotionally rich (and very funny) staging of Barbara Robinson's Best Christmas Pageant Ever. A warm slice of big-hearted, made-for-the-holidays confection (with a delightfully subversive edge), the story of a small-town Nativity pageant gone wrong was adapted from Robinson's 1971 novel of the same name.

As the local church prepares for its Christmas pageant, the annual event looks to be no different than any other year. Then the town terrors, the juvenile delinquent Herdman kids, learn free snacks are served during rehearsal. They manage to snap up all the major roles—and the pageant now appears to be doomed.

It's the way the Herdmans approach the Nativity story that gives the play its charm, calling out the injustice of a baby forced to sleep in a manger—"Where are the protective services people in this town?"—and pointing out the inefficiencies in the messenger angel's choice of words to the shepherds. Ultimately, it turns out that the horrible Herdmans might understand the Nativity story better than just about anyone else.

Directed by Steven David Martin, Pageant is the definition of community theater: a play for the community, filled with members of the community, in a story about the power of community.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

'Crumbs: A Cinderella Story' runs through Dec. 21 at the Imaginists, 461 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. $15–$20. 707.528.7554. 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' runs through Dec. 21 at Raven Theater Windsor. 195 Windsor River Road, Windsor. $10–$20 707.433.6335.

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