“A Civil War Christmas” at Taproot

Each year when planning their December offering, theatre’s must decide whether they should go with a well loved standard featuring Charlie Brown, Scrooge or some other icon of the season, or should they offer something new, something that captures the season but does so in a fresh fashion. Taproot this year went for the new, “A Civil War Christmas” by the esteemed playwright Paula Vogel.

Hazel Rose Gibson, Tré Calhoun, Dedra D. Woods, Maya Burton and Jelani Kee. Photo by Robert Wade.

For me, it wasn’t the wisest choice. Despite a fine, well-integrated cast and the well-chosen and well-presented musical numbers that enrich the production, it moved slowly and was far more historical than holiday. The characters range from young slave children to such significant historical persons as Lincoln himself, his wife, Mary, Robert E. Lee, and even John Wilkes Booth. They exist side-by-side with the slaves, weary Union soldiers and civilians.

It’s a cold December 1864, in Washington, D.C., as Christmas draws near. Peace is longed for though it seems only a distant possibility. It’s a time of scarcity. Even Christmas trees are in short supply since many have been chopped down for firewood. Soldiers long for their families. The country longs for peace.

But there is the promise that Christmas brings along with its carols and festivities, muted though they are in wartime. There’s lots of music here including Negro spirituals, songs from the Civil War period, and yes, a few Christmas Carols too. Music Director Ed Key and Co-Directors Karen Lund and Faith Bennett Russell have integrated it all very nicely.

This is a play that offers good historical information, and the production provides a compelling sense of the privations and sadness of a period where there is no peace and little good will. If, however, you are looking for a rousing Christmas festivity you won’t find it on this stage.

Through Dec. 30, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206 781-9707 or box@taproottheatre.org.

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