For 83 years and counting, Olympia Little Theatre has been the epitome of community theater — a volunteer theater that for every participant on and off stage is a labor of love. Local playwrights, designers, actors and directors are given every opportunity to do their thing and to learn by doing regardless of level of experience or lack of experience.
Scott Ellgen, director of “One Christmas at the Evergreen Mall,” is a first-time director, and most of the 17 actors in the cast are relatively inexperienced. Ellgen wrote in the program Director’s Notes, “When I retired in 2017, I had always been nothing more than a member of the audience like you. Five years later I am directing my first play at OLT. The OLT family has been great to me, and I would suggest if you are interested in giving this a shot, just let us know.”
“One Christmas at the Evergreen Mall” is a series of vignettes involving 22 characters, all of whom visit the mall on the same day at Christmas time — written by four different playwrights with different voices and points of view. Such an undertaking should be a recipe for chaos, but there is just enough overlapping of the different stories for some semblance of a coherent story arc.
Business has been terrible, and the mall is almost empty.
In the opening scene, teenager Todd (13-year-old Jones Dillard-Disston) “borrows” the baby Jesus doll from the mall’s manger scene and gives it to his friend Jenny (eighth-grader Annabeth Collett) because he broke the egg they were caring for as parents for a health class exercise, and he thinks they can replace it with the doll. They have been friends all their young lives, but only in this scene do they become boyfriend and girlfriend.
Next up are a couple of actors who are performing “A Christmas Carol” in the mall, Stephen (Curtis “Curt” Beech) as Marly, and Victoria Austin as Scrooge. They are resentful of and competitive with each other, and he hates that she is playing Scrooge because he is not, and because she’s a woman. They end up practically wrestling each other, and the mall cops (Karen Longo and Riley O’Neill) break them up in a hilarious fight scene.
These are but two of many vignettes in this play. The most dramatic, touching, and well-acted is the scene in which Austin as a single mother tries to shoplift a dress for her daughter and is stopped by a vengeful and haughty salesclerk, Felicia (Lottie Hanson), and a security guard (O’Neill) intervenes. There is also a lovely and well-acted scene in which former lovers, played by Longo and James Saxton, attempt to reunite.
“One Christmas at the Evergreen Mall” is light escapist entertainment with a touch of schmaltz. Not all the acting is at what would be considered a professional level, but much of it is admirable. The first-time director and his large cast are to be congratulated for their efforts.
One Christmas at Evergreen Mall
7:25 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Thursday, Dec. 15
1:55 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 18
Olympia Little Theatre
1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia
Photos by Scott Ellgen.