Back Stage
November 24, 2010

Yes, Svetlana, There Is A Grandfather Frost

SkyPilot Theatre Company at the Luna Playhouse

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

In 1897, newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote an editorial in response to a letter received from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon asking whether Santa Claus was real, because her friends had told her he didn't exist. Church's response, now one of the most famous pieces of journalism extant, has become an indelible part of Christmas. Jeff Goode has turned a bit of Russian history into a warm-hearted homage to Church's defense.

In the 1950s, the new Soviet Union set about destroying the legend of Christmas and Father Christmas by moving the celebration to New Year's, reviving a mythical tale of Grandfather Frost, thus removing the ill-disposed German Christmas influence from the new order. Goode's story is set in an urban newspaper office presided over by the severe Madame Editrix (Erika Godwin). Her secretary, the incurably optimistic Devuchka (Lisa Younger), is preparing for the holiday. When an official news account, sent by the government, details injuries suffered by people protesting at a rally that has not yet occurred, two newsmen--Zloveschii (Tyler Rhoades) and Tserkov (Morry Schorr)--debate truth versus propaganda and repression.

Younger's naive and playful portrayal is a delightful addition to the production. It provides an amusing contrast to the more serious political argument. Godwin's transformation from formal and unsentimental to kind and humane also enhances the overall message of the play. Schorr and Rhoades turn in believable performances as they challenge right versus wrong. Bob Rusch and director Gideon Potter also delight as two menacing Russian agents of the regime. Potter's directorial touch easily captures the humor of the play's predicament as well as the sentimentality inherent in the holiday season.

Tserkov's concluding letter at play's end to little Svetlana, echoing Church's famous one, affirms faith, love, and childhood's delight and could make Goode's play a staple offering during many future Christmas seasons. This cast certainly gives it a heartfelt interpretation.

Presented by SkyPilot Theatre Company at the Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Rd., Glendale. Nov. 13-Dec. 19. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.