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Red Ranger Came Calling, Again
Play Review by Peg Doman
We saw Berkeley Breathed’s story brought to life as “Red Ranger Came Calling: A Guaranteed True Christmas Story”. This was a wonderful production and, (Lucille Ball would love this) if you have red hair like Red the lead character, or Jerick Hoffer the star, whether natural, wigged, sprayed, dyed, extensions or even a Raggedy Anne yarn wig, you can get an adult ticket at the door for $10! Since child tickets are $10 each already, this makes a very affordable holiday outing. I really enjoy Book-It Theatre’s productions because they don’t take a story and rewrite it. They use the actual words from the book, even the narration and expository information.
This year it was held in the much more intimate Eve Alvord Theatre in Seattle Children’s Theatre, a much smaller space than the Seattle Center Theatre where it was presented in years past.
The intimacy of the smaller stage and the audience’s closeness to the actors made it more immediate. Curtis Taylor’s minimalist set enticed the audience to create their own visions.
Jerick Hoffer, who plays Red, said in the talk back after the performance that this was his first professional role. Even though he’s a recent graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, I would never have expected this because he was professional. He is as ungainly as a nine-year old would be as he imagines himself saving the universe with his ray guns. His elastic face conveys all the nuances of the outrage a child feels who thinks he’s been hoodwinked. He could fix an evil eye that would make you feel cursed. He does grumpy and sulky pretty well, too. He’s also a very expressive singer and dancer.
The boy that everyone calls Red, not because of “the thatch of orange debris atop his head that made it look like a freckled ostrich egg on fire”, is called Red because of his complete fascination with Buck Tweed, Red Ranger from Mars and Protector of Grateful Princesses. Buck is a radio and movie hero, I’ll bet in the Saturday serials.
Poor Aunt Vy (Theresa Holmes) has the care of Red for the month of December when his parents ship him from boarding school in Massachusetts to Vashon. We never hear why he was sent so far from home, but we sure see his dissatisfaction with this decision. One of Red’s sneeringly disdainful mantras was, “Who ever heard of celebrating Christmas in the rain?” I wonder what kind of childhood Hoffer had, to so effectively portray these difficult emotions. The time is 1939 and no one has any money, Aunt Vy included. She wants Red to help her decorate her ramshackle home for Christmas by pinning up magazine covers featuring Santa Claus. He scorns the make-do decorations. His only companion is Amelia, Aunt Vy’s Dalmatian-dachshund dog. “Weiner dog!” Red sneers. He takes her everywhere with him on his home-made apple crate scooter.
She makes him a partial costume of his beloved alter ego Buck Tweed. She’s dyed a worn pajama top red and gives it to him on Christmas Eve. It even has a slanted R on the front, just like Buck’s. He is delighted until he feels the familiar fabric and figures out what it’s made from.
After sneaking out of the house after his disappointment, Red meets a little old man who tips his hat to him, and he notices that the man has pointed ears! Is this an elf? Is the recluse who lives in the lighthouse as Saunder Clös really Santa Claus?
Red decides to try to believe, because what he really wants for Christmas is a Buck Tweed Two Speed Crime Stopper Star Hopper Bicycle. But he realizes that there is no way his relatives can ever afford it. So, he asks Saunder Clös to prove he’s Santa Claus and that he can make a reindeer fly. The toys and animals have all come to life but the carved reindeer doesn’t ascend. Then Red notices that Amelia is floating near the ceiling!
Red runs home in anticipation of his wanted gift and falls asleep beside the pitiful tree on the rag rug. Amelia is beside him, weighted down with a toaster and vacuum cleaner. As Hoffer, dressed in his white long johns, lies on the rug with his mouth open and his butt in the air, he conveys the vulnerability of a nine-year old desperate to believe in anything.
The actors are all wonderful. Wesley Rice, a favorite since he played Jesse James in “Diamond Studs” at TAG many, many years ago, portrays the author and narrator, Berkeley Breathed. Breathed’s father told him that story every Christmas Eve. The head elf and co-composer with Myra Platt is Edd Key. He takes care of Saunder Clös and commands the toys, mostly played by the five young actors. The quartet of islanders include Clint Pozzi as Vern, Heather Ward as Hazel, Mark Waldstein as Frank and Dana Johnson as Dottie. They are the chorus that sets up the action and prompts the music. They put old radio sound effects into the story to add to the authenticity.
The kids are so endearing and soooo capable. The outstanding Pierrot (Adam Westerman) and Pinocchio (Sophia Mitri-Schloss) are especially charming. I really enjoyed the almost six-foot tall Sock Monkey (Collin Wheetman), tiny Russian Ballerina (Parlin Shields), and Classic Doll (Ruby Ellis). You can easily see that all the children have had extensive dancing and singing training and experience. They all had to sit still in awkward poses until called to life. It looked painful to me and Don said that, until they moved long minutes into the scene, he thought that they must have been stuffed figures. This is a fun production, but we were sorry that there weren’t more kids in the audience. Mom, Dad, Grammie and Papa! It’s time to take the kids and grandkids to a fun production, full of a sulky little boy who sweetens up, endearing child actors and excellent songs. All 18 cast members are excellent.
“Red Ranger Comes Calling” runs through December 23. As an inducement to red heads everywhere, if you have red hair, natural, wigged, sprayed, dyed, extensions or even a Raggedy Anne yarn wig, you can get a ticket at the door for $10! Since child tickets are $10 each as well, this makes a very affordable holiday outing. Tickets and information are available by phone at 206-216-0833 or tickets can be ordered online at www.book-it.org.