PLAY REVIEW : A Holiday Program With Teeth

Deck the halls with boughs of one more Christmas show swimming with apparitions of sugarplums, twinkling trees and carolers singing a cappella harmonies that seem to soar to the heavens.

What distinguishes "Lamb's Players Festival of Christmas" from the rest of the holiday pack is its one sure showstopper: A pair of gleaming white teeth that dance.

Playwright Kerry Meads manages to sink those teeth and many others into her script. It's her ninth for the company, which has been staging her original holiday shows for 18 years now.

This clever little show, improved since its 1990 Lamb's debut, runs like a well-oiled comedic machine at the company's resident stage here. But if it is a tad contrived, the contrivance is artful, infused with heart, and redeemed by truly lovely singing, stylishly arranged by Vanda Eggington.

Subtitled "It's Christmas, and It's Live!," this "festival" takes place on the sound stage of a national television show in 1952, when television was as live as theater.

As temperamental producer Delmonico (David Heath) and host Steve Fairfield (Anthony J. Ballard) await their guest stars, a blizzard shuts down the city, stranding them with only an amateur singing group, the Harmonaires, to fill a one-hour broadcast.

Panic ensues. When the desperate producer tries to pull a star out of the close-knit group, the formerly harmonious Harmonaires start to bicker about billing.

The sets are managed by Frankie (Edward Hofmeister), the one technician not trapped by the blizzard and who unwittingly keeps dropping props and trap doors. Adding to Delmonico's mounting distress, the wife of the tooth-polish sponsor (Darlene Trent) has worked up a cute little number featuring a giant human toothbrush and, of course, those dancing teeth.

Yet after everything goes wrong that can go wrong, everyone learns--or remembers--something about love, loyalty, family and the true meaning of Christmas.

Lamb's special strength continues to be its fine ensemble work from actors who have been together for more than a decade. Among the veterans anchoring the action are Heath, who expertly exudes barely checked hysteria as the television director, and playwright Meads, as the sassy and sexy Delmonico assistant who really runs the show. Lamb's associate director Deborah Gilmour Smyth directs with sensitivity to the nuances between the characters.

Leigh Scarritt is amusing as the pouting Harmonaire who gets demoted from star to toothbrush; lucky for her, she gets to pout in Lorrie Blackard's lush and truly lovely costumes.

One of the nicest additions to this fine group is newcomer Jessica Parris, who brings a shy innocence to Marcie Kramer, a starry-eyed gofer who, because of the blizzard, gets drafted to redesign the set.

Marcie's story is that she will be alone on Christmas because her only living family member, her father, has been shipped overseas to fight. At one point she gives a moving address to those missing loved ones during the holidays--especially moving since the North Island Naval Air Station is only a few blocks from the theater.

Played against the reality of American troops being sent to Bosnia for Christmas, the words brought an unexpected depth to this confection of a play. It was a stark reminder of those bearing the bloody cross of war at a time when others around them are singing songs of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.

* "Lamb's Players Festival of Christmas," Lamb's Players Resident Stage, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. performance today (12/22) and 10 a.m. Saturday (12/23). (619) 437-0600. Ends Dec. 30. $17-$26. Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes.

Anthony J. Ballard: Steve Fairfield

Sandy Campbell: Delores (Kitty) Bloom

David Heath: Delmonico

Edward Hofmeister: Frankie

Todd Jones: Ron Harmon

Jon Lorenz: Walter Beaman

Kerry Meads: Lorraine Lacy

Jessica Parris: Marcie Kramer

Leigh Scarritt: Roseanne Harmon

Darlene Trent; Opal Snowden

A Lamb's Players Theatre production of a play by Kerry Meads, directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth. Original music and musical direction by Vanda Eggington. Choreography by Pamela Turner. Sets: Mike Buckley. Costumes: Lorrie Blackard. Lights: Scott O'Donnell. Sound: Greg Campbell. Stage manager: Mary Schrader.

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