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Review: 'A Christmas Pudding' at Theatre 40

December 11, 2008 |  1:05 pm

A_christmas_pudding Although undeniably among the year’s more low-key yuletide stage offerings, "A Christmas Pudding" serves up more than mush.

David Birney’s adaptation is an evening of song, poetry and stories that celebrate the spiritual dimensions of the season. There is no overarching plot; in Melanie MacQueen’s minimal staging for Theatre 40, four actors — Dan Leslie, Jackie Maruschak, Jeanne Spain and Steven Shaw — read from a diverse array of classic and modern texts, punctuated with musical interludes.

Tone ranges from lighthearted whimsy to solemn reflection. A wryly delivered 1873 "Letter From Santa Claus" written by Mark Twain to his daughter confirms delivery of requested gifts except for "one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock." Another humorous segment features George Bernard Shaw’s typically acerbic dismissal of the season as "An Atrocious Institution."

Softer sentiments prevail in O.Henry’s "Gift of the Magi," poems by Emily Dickinson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Contemporary voices include meditations by screenwriter A.J. Carothers, as well as Birney and his daughter, Mollie.

And of course there’s no escaping the inevitable excerpts from Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol."

Under Kathrine Bates’ musical direction, a six member chorus performs songs and carols either a cappella or with accompaniment from harpist Lyda Eddington.

While the readings are generally accomplished, the delivery and staging add little dramatic energy. The contemplative nature of the material will not likely capture the attention of younger viewers.

This is definitely a Christmas — as opposed to a holiday — show, one that wears its theology proudly on its sleeve. Nevertheless, its openhearted sentiments send a message that’s reassuringly inclusive.

--Philip Brandes

"A Christmas Pudding," Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School Campus at 241 Moreno Drive, Century City. 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday. $20. (310) 364-0535. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Caption: From left, Jeanne Spain, Daniel Leslie and Jackie Maruschak in "A Christmas Pudding." Credit: Ed Krieger