Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Ornaments I Love, Part 1

In the spring of 1999 I hatched a brilliant idea. I would write a play for Y2K!

The working title was God is Under the Weather. A church drama team gathers on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve to strike the set and put away all the props from their Christmas play. A blizzard materializes so quickly and fiercely, they become stranded at the church. Along comes a traveler seeking refuge from the storm and assistance with car problems. To pass the time, the team performs its short Christmas piece for their out-of-town guest, thus creating a play-within-a-play.

The team includes Jessica, a teenager who shares a special bond with their Shakespeare-quoting team leader, Oscar, even though neither of them knows she is his biological daughter. Her widowed mother, Gail, comes along to help but has no intention of rekindling a long-dead romance with Oscar. (Are you still with me?) 

Another teammate has brought along his pregnant wife who goes into labor. The power goes out. The church phone is dead. And it’s 1999, so the few who might own cell phones find them dead, too. As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed, hearts are laid bare, souls are inspired, and a baby is born on the stroke of Y2K.

I sent this dazzling work of genius off to the top publishers of church drama scripts, certain they’d clamor for it. I wondered whether Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts would play the lead when the movie came out.

In the play-within-the-play, one character receives a gift of a delicate glass nativity scene inside a glass ball. I didn’t know if such a thing existed. When I found the exact ornament while browsing a fundraising catalog from our kids’ school, I knew it was a sign. I practically heard the Hallelujah chorus while cherubs danced above the catalog. I ordered the ornament immediately, so I’d be ready when my play hit the big time.

In my naivety, (funny how similar to “nativity” that sounds), there were so many things I did not understand. Such as:
·       Churches do not want to put on plays between Christmas and New Years, and even if they did…
·       Publishers don’t want scripts for plays that have never been produced, and even if they did…
·       Publishers do not want to publish a script that would only be useful for a once-in-a-lifetime event, and even if they did…
·       Publishers would have needed to see this script in 1996. By the time I mailed the script, directors should have been handing out parts!

Naturally, the play was rejected. Naturally, I felt crushed. Though the full play was never produced, I did sell the shorter play-within-a-play years later to a publisher who included it in a Christmas collection. I have no idea whether it’s ever been staged.

Photo by G. Loewen Photography
But the little glass nativity scene hangs on our tree every year. You might think this monument to my humiliation would not be worth hanging on to, but I still like it. It’s a reminder of so many things, like surviving life’s disappointments, and all I’ve learned in the intervening years. It reminds me what’s truly important: the baby in the manger who loves me anyway and who understands rejection to a depth I’ll never experience. 

Not even my family knows the significance of that ornament, since I’ve never shared the story behind it. Until now.

What’s your favorite ornament?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Seeing The Star

Last weekend, we took three of our grandsons to see “The Star” at a Winnipeg movie theater. 

This animated movie offers a playful retelling of Jesus’ nativity as seen from the animals’ point of view. A small but brave donkey named Bo yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. Thanks to the assistance of his old father and the encouragement of his friend Dave the dove, Bo finds the courage to break free and to set off on the adventure of his dreams. Along his journey, he teams up with Ruth, a lovable sheep who has lost her flock. Three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals join the cast as Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told - the first Christmas.

From the opening scene, set in “Nine Months BC,” when I heard Pentatonix singing Carol of the Bells, I decided “this is gonna be good!” The music alone makes it worth the admission price—featuring well-known artists like Mariah Carey and Casting Crowns.

Among the many voices provided for the colorful characters, the ones most familiar to me were Steven Yeun, Kelly Clarkson, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Kris Kristofferson, and Christopher Plummer. 

Obviously, the producers of this movie have taken liberties with the biblical narrative. The disclaimer at the end states their desire to maintain the spirit of the story: redemption and grace. For me, two “spirit of the story” moments stand out. 

The first happened after the little donkey, who has always longed to do something important, abandons Mary and Joseph to chase after his lifelong dream of joining the royal caravan. We, too, become easily distracted by “royal caravans” in our lives, not the least of which is Christmas itself. Getting caught up in the shopping, decorating, baking, and Santa Claus—all divert us from what’s truly important. We find myriads of ways to chase after superficial time-wasters the rest of the year, as well.

At the last minute, Bo realizes the royal caravan won’t bring him true joy, and he returns to the people he has come to love. In the end, of course, he understands he has been carrying the King of kings all along.

The second moment involves the redemption of the bully dogs. Thaddeus and Rufus have been aiding King Herod’s henchman on his deadly hunt for Mary’s baby through the entire story. When the other animals rescue the dogs from a certain death and break their chains, the dogs slink into the stable where Jesus has been born. Reformed by the miracle, they want to see the baby, too. At first, the other animals try to block their path. Then Deborah the camel says, “let them come.” 

The dogs bow before Messiah. Rufus asks, “Are we good now?”
Thaddeus replies, “We have to try.”

Thaddeus still doesn’t quite get it. If we could make ourselves good by trying, we wouldn’t need Jesus. He alone can take our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. There is no try. There is only mercy and grace.

I highly recommend seeing this movie with your kids and discussing it afterwards. Plenty of laugh-out-loud lines, heart-racing events, and touching moments make it well worth your investment.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Miracle on 34th Street

In 2014, when the Prairie Players launched an on-stage radio play (It’s a Wonderful Life), I wondered how on earth that might work. Did anyone really want to sit in an audience, listening to actors reading from scripts? Or would we sit in the dark, hearing voices over the speakers and imagining the rest, much like a real 1940’s radio audience would have? Either way, I feared the production might be a bust. 

I worried for nothing. It was fantastic! An engaging story in every way.

So when I heard the group was staging another radio drama for this season, I relaxed. I’m not part of the production, but I sat in on a recent rehearsal so I could tell you about it. Let me assure you, you don’t want to miss it! If you’re not already in the Christmas spirit by then, you will be when you leave. Unless your heart is stone dead.

Directed by Rosa Albanese Rawlings, the play features Peggy Tidsbury as the radio announcer. Rumour has it Peggy basically wrote her own script, working in some clever advertising for our local sponsors. That in itself will keep you laughing.

The rest of this talented cast includes Maggie Davidson as Doris Walker; Fabien de Freitas as Fred Gailey and the postman; Haley L’Heureux as Susan Walker (close your eyes while she speaks, and you’ll swear she’s a real seven-year-old!); Barry Rud as Kris Kringle; and Terry Tully who portrays four characters: Mr. Shellhammer, Dr. Pierce, Judge Harper, and Charles Halloran.
Amber Blume, Rita Carignan, Betty-Jean Checkley, Wayne Loeppky, Fran Myles, Reid Noton, and Tyrone Taylor round out the cast.

One of the things making this play so fun is the excellent piano music provided live on stage by Stephanie Kauffman. By the end of the night, you may have heard snippets of every Christmas song ever written. Stephanie is also the play’s producer—because one job is never enough for that gal!

Based on the 1947 movie of the same name, this play is sure to delight you. It includes something for everyone: a blossoming romance, big business competition, and even court room drama. And most of all, the heartwarming lesson: “faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

While searching little-known trivia about this popular old movie, I learned the rivalry between Macy’s and Gimbel’s department stores was as real as depicted in the film. The two stores, just blocks from each other in New York City, competed fiercely for the same business. One reporter wrote that Macy’s closed for a half-day when the movie premiered so its 12,000 employees could see it first. It was released May 3, which is odd for a Christmas story nowadays.

The play alone will run on November 29 and 30 at 7:30 and tickets cost $15. If you prefer dinner theatre, you can attend on December 1 or 2 for $45. Catered by Café on Prince, those evenings begin with cocktails at 5:30, dinner at 6:30, and the play at 7:30. All events take place at the William Glesby Centre where you can buy your tickets in person or by calling 204-239-4848.