Last week the production A Little House Christmas opened at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park. We typically are lucky enough to see the plays on the eve before the opening during the final dress rehearsal and my girls were particularly excited to see the first holiday play of the season. As we entered the theater, I immediately knew that things really are different with Adventure Theatre since they merged — never before have I seen such an elaborate and beautiful set at this particular theater than with this production. The prairie house is intricately built out onto the stage, including a loft bed for the girls but it was the wheat that wrapped around the house with the soft evening light behind that really grabbed me. Kudos to Adventure Theatre MTC for further extending our children’s imaginations with the possibilities in set design and creation through this production – I really loved it. And all this before the show even got started!
Now to the show. My girls are seven and four this month and I am a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet exposed them to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House series. In fact, over the summer, we vacationed with a group of friends and one is an elementary school teacher who really raved about the series and how much her kids, a boy and a girl (both about the same age as my girls), really love the stories and the TV series (which she picked up on the cheap at BJs). Clearly I need to add it to their Christmas lists. Prior knowledge of the book and premise really isn’t necessary to enjoy this delightful 45-minute production, however. The three young girls starring in the play, Katie Littleton as Laura Ingalls, Maya Brettell as Mary Ingalls and Caroline Coleman as Nellie Oleson, do a remarkable job through their acting and expressions of conveying the story and message to the younger kids in the audience – and also really keep the attention of even the youngest in the audience.
As the production opens, we quickly learn the Ingalls family has moved into the country and they’ve invited some friends over for a pre-holiday feast. The addition of the “city girl”, Nellie Oleson, to the house shifts the dynamics and Laura has little patience for the girl’s snobby, obnoxious behavior. The messages involved in these kid friendships are ideal for the tween set and I believe would appeal to boys as well as girls. Certainly the behavior of the girls created some “teachable moment” opportunities for me and my girls as we drove home and talked about good and bad behavior and how we treat our friends.
Suddenly the threat of a nasty storm moves in over the prairie, complete with remarkable special effects on the set – it rained in between the windows of the cabins – really a great detail to look out for that added extra pizzaz to the show. Also – listen carefully for some of the words and phrases used in the play – clearly old-fashioned and hilarious to consider bringing back. As Christmas draws near and the unrelenting storm fails to ease up, the Ingalls girls adjust to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Santa and without any gifts. Both of their parents attempt to soften their disappointment and ultimately, the girls discover they can still enjoy and celebrate the holiday even if Santa can’t make it across the river.
At this point, me and my friends started wondering how we were going to explain this one to the kids later and considered whipping up some consistent talking points so we wouldn’t further confuse matters with conflicting stories but at least in my house, it wasn’t needed. I expected many questions about where the flying reindeer were and why couldn’t Santa get to their house if he can get everywhere else – but none of that happened. In the end, though my youngest wasn’t likely absorbing the full message of the show, even she digested some of it because they left the play happy and content that the Ingalls girls still celebrated Christmas, even if it was a little different this year. In the end, the family had one another and the warmth of their home on the prairie, and everything felt right.
The Adventure Theatre recommends the play for kids ages 4 and up. My 4-year-old definitely enjoyed the show and sat happily for the 45-minute production but I can see how not all 4-year-olds would sit through it. My advice if your kids are on the younger side would be to base that decision on your own child but I would think the show is universally appealing to those 5 and up, and particularly relevant to the tween-aged kids. Catch this lovely holiday production before it ends on December 31. Tickets are $19 and can be purchased online
Disclosure: Adventure Theatre MTC gifted the tickets to me but my opinions here are all my own.