ABET “Twas The Night Before Christmas” Review

ABET opened its final show of 2014 with a very family-friendly Christmas play on stage at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach, Florida, on-stage through December 21, 2014. Call 249-7177 or visit abettheatre.com for reservations. Tickets are $20.00 for adults, $10 for children under 18.

Before we tell you about this delightful yuletide treat, let us say that a good reason for going to see it is because it was written by Ken Ludwig, one of the most popular playwrights in the North Florida area. How many of his locally produced plays have you seen? The list includes “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Leading Ladies,” “The Fox on the Fairway,” “The Game’s Afoot,” “Twentieth Century” and “The Beaux Stratagem.”

Twas The Night Before Christmas” debuted in 2011 and is the first play Ludwig has written specifically for children. Ah, but surprise, surprise, adults will find this adventure extremely funny and entertaining as members of the opening night audience discovered.

Mr. Ludwig uses the opening of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem to launch into his wildly different version of the classic. The one-act play tells the story of a plucky young girl, an elf, and a mouse who join together to save Christmas from evil former elves who want to betray Santa Claus.

The play is loaded with those fun things usually found in Ludwig’s farces: chase scenes, mistaken identities, many entrances and exits, and crazy schemes. Now toss in a bit of hip-hop music, a plane ride, and whimsical humor, and you have a little over an hour of fast-paced merriment with never a dull moment.

All of this is possible because of an excellent script, and the outstanding casting and brisk and bouncy direction by Bradley Akers, who is making his debut at ABET. Mr. Akers is Communications Manager at Players by the Sea, where he also appears on stage and as a director. He has twice been the winner of the Pelican Award for Best Play, with “The Lyons” and “Dog Sees God.”

This is very much a crackerjack ensemble with five talented actors.

Robert Banks plays the dastardly Sir Guy, a former elf with evil on his mind, who once tried to sell Santa’s sleigh to Wal-Mart. He also portrays Uncle Brierly, a very comic role quite different from his last appearance on Players stage as Pontius Pilate in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Matt Tompkins is Mulch, the dimwitted sidekick to Sir Guy, who also plays a very Jolly Santa Claus. Matt has certainly established himself as a fine and versatile comic actor during the 2014-15 season. He was hilarious as Charlie Clench in ABET’s “One Man, Two Guvnors” and was side-splittingly funny as Cherubin/Doublemain in Theatre Jacksonville’s “Figaro.”

Megan Georgeo, a Florida School of the Arts graduate, has built an impressive resume in a mix of roles in musical theatre and drama. Ms. Georgeo has appeared in “Beehive,” “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” and “Meshuggah Nuns” in the musical world. In cutting edge dramas, we have seen her in “Quills,” “The Vibrator Play,” and “The Trojan Woman.” In ABET’s comedy, she is at her best as Calliope, a good elf, who flies to the North Pole to save Christmas.

Two local high school students are instrumental in finding the naughty and nice list for Santa. They are excellent in this play, displaying exhilaratingly exact timing.

Jason King is a high school senior, and plays Amos the mouse as well as his twin brother, also a mouse named Amos, from Kansas. Mr. King made his community theatre debut in Theatre Jacksonville’s “Tea and Sympathy” last year and has spent a very busy four years at Ponte Vedra High School, acting and directing and writing plays.

Kaiti Bata, the youngest member of the cast, is a sophomore at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. As teenager Emily, she partners with Amos and Calliope, as they take an incredible plane ride and insure that Santa is able to make his annual worldwide gift-giving trip.

We were out of breath from watching the incredible comic energy of this cast and their inspired performances. The good humor seems to roll off the stage in generous waves of joy.

The set, designed by the Director Akers, is at first a comfortable cozy living room in Vermont, and later becomes Santa’s Workshop.

The lighting design by Bryan Frank and Gordon Frank changed to create various holiday scenes. Mara Schreiber as Stage Manager and Light Board Operator was assisted by a hard working stage crew that included Eve Harrison, Luna Miley, Mia Cleary and Emilee McClean.

Looking for a special Christmas event to take your children or grandchildren to enjoy this year? The children in the opening night audience were mesmerized by this delightful family play.



About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.