Players version of ‘Butterfingers Angel’ spins quite the silly yarn
PROVIDENCE — Imagine a first-hand account of the Christmas story as told by Mary and Joseph, two ordinary human beings recruited for extraordinary responsibilities.
That’s the starting point for William Gibson’s funny, absurd and ultimately moving play about the birth of Jesus, a play with a title that has to be written down to be remembered: “The Butterfingers Angel, Mary and Joseph, Herod the Nut, and the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree.”
Vince Petronio is directing The Players at the Barker Playhouse in an amusing production, done with an eye for the humanity and the humor in the concept. As the lyrics in the carol that opens the show make clear, the play will “Fill the stage with bits of folly.”
In this telling, Mary is a rather irritating teenager who has decided marriage is not for her. Joseph is a hard-working, sincere but arguably dull older man who longs for a family but fears that opportunity has passed by.
The angel who comes to tell them of their impending roles is a sincere but inept young man who gets his prescience from a notebook filled with Biblical quotes.
The play follows the story from the Bible but with some non-Biblical embellishments, such as a singing tree, talking animals, three not-so-wise men and three more young men who are Mary’s uncouth brothers. Herod, as mentioned, is a nut.
The silliness persists, with humorous dialogue from the playwright and fun tweaks from the director, including a Rhode Island-referenced map used by the “wise” men. Yet in the final moments, this play resurrects the significance of the story in a moving scene, well staged by Petronio and the Players.
Seventeen-year-old Phoebe Brown anchors the show with her portrayal of the sassy, outspoken, and only inadvertently thoughtful Mary. Roger Lemlin is humorous as the self-effacing Joseph who, nonetheless, discovers truths about himself in connection with his important responsibilities.
Tylar Jahumpa, a recent graduate of Dean College, gives an appealing performance as the Angel; he wants to do well, but he’s not quite up to herald-angel standards.
Herod, on the other hand, is power hungry, and Kevin Thibault enlivens the stage with his performance. Delivering a surprising number of laughs is a tree, well played – and sung – by Andrea Hellman.
The supporting cast is large, and Petronio keeps everyone engaged in what’s happening on stage, from the slacker donkey, a petite Simone Pellegrino, to the innkeeper’s sardonic daughter, played by Elizabeth Kinnane. This show has a number of roles for young actors, a nice touch.
Overall, humor in “The Butterfingers Angel …” tends toward the silly. As for the performances, however, this production is well done, and thinking about Mary, Joseph et al as human beings, with human foibles, gives us another angle on the story of the nativity.
Performances of “The Butterfingers Angel …” continue Dec. 7 through 9, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit St. Tickets are $25 adults, $15 students with ID. For reservations, call the box office at 401-2730590 or email play[email protected] gmail.com. For information, visit playersri.org.
The directionally-challenged wise men, from left, Stephen Hug, Mark Lima and Megan Ruggerio.