This production was scheduled December 15-17, 2023.

Just when you think you’ve heard every Christmas story there is to tell—religious or secular—comes a reminder that you can always appreciate one more, especially if it reveals a bit of our shared humanity or changes perceptions we may have taken for granted for too long.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a 1971 book by Barbara Robinson that was adapted into a play in 1982, does both. And thanks to a staged reading presented by eight erudite entertainers from By the Sea Productions in Morro Bay, you can discover a delightful interlude of Christmas joy in the shared spirit of the season.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to move quickly, as the show runs for one weekend only, with its final two performances on Saturday, December 16 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 17 at 3 p.m.

This bright and breezy tale about a church Christmas pageant gone awry runs just over an hour—short enough to fit into your holiday shopping schedule, but long enough to make its gentle point that reflecting on the true meaning of the season can be a heartwarming and occasionally hilarious exercise.

Gregory DeMartini, John Geever, Kate Kravets, Brandon MacDonald, Janice Peters, Zoe Saba, Jill Turnbow, and Jude Walker play various roles as the story unfolds, beginning with an extended description of the six rowdy Herdman children who infiltrate first a Sunday School and then a church’s annual pageant. As plans progress through the pageant’s casting and rehearsals, then culminate in the congregation’s reaction to the resulting performance, it’s easy to get caught up in the pictures painted by these versatile performers.

Jill Turnbow’s tight but even direction gives her cast members the leeway to express childish emotions, parental concerns, and adult (but sometimes misguided) sensibilities with joy and humor that is not limited by the reader’s podiums (to which they are not always confined). Appropriate humming, singing, and even shrieking add delightfully to the storytelling (with Zoe Saba nearly stealing the show as the youngest Herdman playing the Angel of the Lord with mighty—and deafening—glee).

The poinsettia-strewn stage, as well as proficient lights and sound by Rhonda Crowfoot and Samvel Gottlieb, add to the welcoming energy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. If you want to explore the humanity—really the humanness—of Christmas, this show will ignite a spark in your holiday season.

:: Charlotte Alexander