Pohnpei Players strut their “hour on the stage” in a magnificent Christmas play

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By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
December 9, 2017
Pohnpei—“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was not some boastful, self-assigned description of a play put on by a group of people with huge egos. It was merely the title of a play written by playwright Barbara Robinson and performed by Pohnpei Players Community Theatre. The title of the play was not intended to be prideful, the plot of the story revealed, but the people who participated in it have absolutely every right to take some pride in a marvelously done and fun performance.
My wife and I attended the first performance when we left the gymnasium of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School we both felt lighter than when we arrived, not only because of the uplifting nature of the story that made this old romantic cry on several occasions but because the cast and crew worked so well together. I immediately went back to the office and posted a Facebook message encouraging anyone who was on the fence about whether or not they would attend any of the two remaining shows to get off the fence and g o forthwith.

There may have been some confusion about how to obtain tickets for the performances. The promoters had published that members of the cast and crew had tickets but that there were only a limited number of tickets available at the door. It’s possible that confusion kept the crowds smaller than they should have been for such excellent performances. However, even some people who did have tickets didn’t show. Those people who did show up for the performance were treated to one of the finest events of the year. Those who didn’t lost out on something special.
The performances are over so it is safe for me to give a short synopsis of the plot without spoiling anything. The six children of the Herdman family are unruly bullies from a poor family that run rampant in a small community. They are universally despised and feared in equal measures by everyone in their small town. They learn that if they go to Sunday school at a local church they will get free snacks so they show up just in time to pretty much take over the church’s annual Christmas pageant.
christmas play 01The woman who ALWAYS directs the pageant breaks her leg and Grace Bradley, played by veteran actress and assistant director Kristi Parker, is maneuvered into taking on the production herself. At the first rehearsal the Herdmans end with all of the key roles— Mary, Joseph, Wisemen, and the angel of the Lord—because no one will volunteer for those parts for fear of reprisals. The play follows the sometimes cute, sometimes hilarious antics of the Herdmans as Mrs. Baker tries frantically to make good on her own goal to make this “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”.
On the evening of the pageant the participants have never been able to get all the way through even once, but the church is packed with people who came mainly to see what disaster the Herdmans would create. Grace and her husband whose part was well played by Dennis Gearhart fully expect disaster but something has happened to the Herdmans. They have finally gotten the message of the story they are telling. Imogene Herdman, very convincingly played by Isabella Sipos, has had a tender moment with the doll they are using to betray the Christ child. Through Sipos acting it is apparent that the message of the good news they are telling has reached her heart and everything changes.
The pageant goes off perfectly and tenderly. One of the Herdman boys playing a wiseman decides that a fancy gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh is not what the new family needs and so brings the canned ham that their family received from the welfare department as a special gift that the Herdmans won’t take back after the pageant is over.
The audience is left to imagine what happens in the future, but at least for that one event, they have truly heard and experience the message of Christmas to the shock of the congregation. For all of them, it was indeed the best Christmas pageant ever.
The cast, crew and directors were all volunteers. Just the same, the production was remarkably professional in their adaptability. Unbeknownst to the crowd the stairway leading to stage left broke near the beginning of the performance but the performance went on with barely a hiccup. I was none the wiser until the next day when the Assistant Director, Kristi Parker told me about the incident.
Wayne and Kristi Parker were the director and assistant director. They have vast experience in theatre and wanted to share it here in Pohnpei. Though Natasha Funke had no previous acting or theater experience she brought significant management skills in her role as producer. Spencer Parker acted as Student Director and Stage Manager. Spencer, who is in 10th grade has acted on stages for most of his life, beginning at the age of two. Sandra Wang-Harris served as Production Manager and Music Director. Wang is an optometrist who also has significant music skills. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from the University of Georgia.
The main sponsor for the production was the Embassy of the United States. Other sponsors and contributors were Pohnpei Catholic School, OLMCHS, Genesis, Dar Pingelap Photography, KFC-Kolonia Fried Chicken, Kaselehlie Diner, Ray and Dors, and the families and friends of the cast members. It was additionally supported by a host of committed volunteers.
The community players hope to produce more performances in 2018. If those are even half as good as the Christmas play you will not want to miss it.
You can find the group on Facebook under the name Pohnpei Players.

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