The Holidays are a tricky time of year. On one hand most people seem to get into the spirit of good-will towards one another, and familial reunions. On the other hand the chaos of travel and the desire for everything to go perfectly is troublesome. No one is required to enjoy the Holidays; some people outright hate them. People are unique, therefore individual experiences are bound to vary even during this traditionally joyful time of year.
Stealing Baby Jesus is an autobiographical, one-woman show written and performed by Bernadette Nason, who takes little time to mention that she hates Christmas, in which she recounts four instances that depict her attempts to improve her Christmas and how they end poorly.
Performing at the Hyde Park Theatre, Nason and her director, Michael Stuart, utilize a preexisting set from another production while adding a few extra pieces of their own to make it theirs. Truth be told I would not have guessed the set was not of their creation unless I was told otherwise. The small, run-down apartment adorned with a small Christmas tree, a wreath, snowflake table cloths, and more Christmas-themed decorations was a lovely balance of winter cheer and ill-placed optimism pervasive throughout the production.
As one might expect of this one-woman show, the production hangs entirely on Nason’s performance. Her familiarity with the source material (both her anecdotes and often relevant copy of A Christmas Carol) is shown through her comfort while speaking which, when paired with her native British accent, offers a certain eloquence to her stories that juxtapose nicely with how unfortunately they end for her. As such, she is good at maintaining a delightful attitude towards her often sarcastic humor. Naturally, other characters appear in this one-woman show through Nason’s shift of voice, posture, and tone, most notably as her perpetually soft-spoken mother. Some of the voices felt similar to one another, yet none of them were so out-of-character to be jarring. Furthermore it is clear that Nason has experience as a professional storyteller through her physicality. Her gestures never feel superfluous nor does she remain too static at any moment. Stuart always has Nason on the move to a new location onstage when the stories travel, pantomiming full sets out of simple pieces of furniture.
My one concern with the production came with Nason’s increasingly-present line dropping. Of course, with a performance which is essentially a 75-minute monologue it is impressive enough that such a piece could be memorized with the aid of a cast, but as the production rolled on Nason noticeably stumbled lines more often than she had earlier in the production. But to her credit she occasionally used the fumbles to her advantage by drawing more attention to them and earning a quick laugh out of the moment.
Stealing Baby Jesus is a cute production. It’s a fun precursor to the New Year that celebrates all that is good and bad about Christmas, and how one is supposed to spend it. As with all Christmas specials there is naturally a lesson to be learned in all of this, but when it’s all said and done the moral is less important than the fun time you spend with Nason as she desperately tries to make Christmas work.
Stealing Baby Jesus concludes its limited run with three more performances at the Hyde Park Theatre: Sunday December 13th at 2pm, andTuesday/Wednesday December 15th and 16th at 8pm.