THE ANGELS OF CHRISTMAS ARRIVE IN VAN WERT
By Dee Fisher
Christmas arrived Thursday night at the Van Wert Civic Theatre! My Three Angels opened to the delight of the audience, who expressed their appreciation with applause and kind words to the cast after the show. I know what you’re thinking: oh, boy, another saccharine-filled take on the “real meaning” of Christmas, the air filled with pine scent, the lights twinkling on the industrial-sized Christmas tree, children’s faces lit up with the glow of sweetness.
And you would be wrong.
My Three Angels is a Christmas story that takes the generosity and selflessness that is part of the Christmas season, mixes it all up, and hands it back to you in a quite bizarre way. I would caution you to not let your mind wander at all. You’ll miss the next twist in the plot.
The time is Christmas Eve, 1910, in French Guiana, a tropical region where the average temperature at this time of year is 104. The island is filled with convicts who have been exiled there from France. A sweet, gentle shopkeeper, who is not a very good businessman, is sitting at his table trying to straighten his not-so-well-kept ledger books. His wife, who loves him dearly, is trying to get him to be more business-like and collect debts owed to them. His daughter runs in with the news that her father’s cousin, who had cruelly taken away the father’s business in France, has arrived at the dock, along with his nephew, who is in the process of jilting the daughter for an heiress in France. Their mission in coming to this hellhole? They have come to oust the family from the small shop they manage!
All the while, we hear the banging of hammers on the roof. Three convicts, two murderers and one swindler, have been employed by the family to fix their roof. The real fun starts when they come down from the roof and make themselves at home. Despite their checkered pasts, each prisoner has a heart of gold and a desire to see justice done. They set about to make things right for the family and, in so doing, find their own redemption as real-life angels.
I heard about the cast shortly after the auditions were completed, and I have to say I was excited to see who was chosen. Veteran performers work alongside newer actors, and I even saw faces that I hadn’t seen in years.
The trio of angels is aptly played by Rick Workman, Perry Luhn, and Steve Lane, all long-time veterans of many community stages in our area. The three gentlemen work together so well, and you find yourself reading whole pages of dialogue in their facial expressions and glances back and forth. The actors brought each character to life in such a way that you find yourself rooting for them, despite their unorthodox and rather illegal ways of helping the shopkeeper’s family. Steve as Jules will have you reaching for your Kleenex with his desire for a family and “domesticity”; Perry as Alfred will have you chuckling with his tender care for their pet snake, Adolphe; and Rick will have you checking for your wallet as you watch him become Joseph, the quick-talking con man.
Jerry Miller, Jan Miller (no, they’re not really married to each other) and Sassy Shenefield are Felix and Emilie Ducotel and their overly romantic daughter, Marie Louise. Jerry and Jan have played husband and wife before on Van Wert’s stage, and their chemistry was obvious. Putting Sassy in as Marie Louise was a wise decision, as she comes across well as the dramatic young thing with unrequited love for the caddish nephew.
The real villains in the story are the evil cousin, Henri, and his nephew, Paul, played by Ed Eichler and Lance Thompson. You, too, like the opening night audience, will catch your breath at the callous words and actions of these characters. I really didn’t know Ed could play such an evil character as Henri, but he had me with his entrance, sweeping into the room without a thought for anyone around him. Lance’s character, Paul, seemed to be destined for the background, but as he later displays his true colors (which are as wicked as his uncle), Lance brought him into the foreground with true mustache-twirling skill.
Rounding off this talented cast are Monica Campbell as the “scatterbrained” Madame Parole and Frank Jones, Jr. as the dashing young lieutenant fresh off the boat from France. Monica’s Madame is cunning as a fox as she skillfully avoids paying her bills, and Frank’s complete lack of awareness of what has transpired in the shop on Christmas Eve is a nice capper to the plot. Both actors add brilliant splashes of color to complete the portrait of the three angels.
The Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier every year, but I think you’ll enjoy the backspin that My Three Angels gives to the message of good will toward men. The show opened Thursday, November 14, and performances will continue on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 24. Evening performances begin at 8:00, and Sunday performances are matinees beginning at 2:00. Seeing this wonderful cast perform is a bargain at $9.00 a ticket, so call the box office at 419-238-9689 and make your reservation soon.