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One man proves the human spirit is immeasurable in this war drama

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell: 300: Rise of an Empire) lived enough for three men in his first 30 years. As a teen, the son of Italian immigrants was a petty thief. His brother suggests that instead of running from the police, Louis should put his speed to work. Throwing his energy into training, he earns a slot on the Olympic track team.
    After an impressive performance at the games, World War II interrupts his plans, and Louis becomes a bombardier in the Pacific theater. On a rescue mission, the plane fails, and Louis and two other crewmen wind up on a small raft in the middle of the ocean.
    The castaways endure more than a month at sea before rescue by a ­Japanese ship. Starving, sunburned and half mad, the Americans are cast into a prison camp.
    This true story has lots of epic plotlines, but, alas, it has little character development. Olympics, lost at sea, prisoner of war — each would make a good movie. Combining all three stories into one movie is overwhelming.
    Director Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey) has the difficult task of weaving these three themes into a seamless film. Despite a script by the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis), she doesn’t hit the mark.
    Jolie, who became a friend of Zamperini and his family, may be too close to her subject to do it justice. Louis is saintly even as a juvenile delinquent. He always knows the right thing to do, he’s always brave and he never waivers in his beliefs.
    Though Jolie failed to give Zamperini the depth and coherence he deserves, she found a worthy actor to portray the hero. O’Connell pours raw emotion into the role, showing Louis as an iron-willed man who can endure every punch life throws. But by the time Zamperini becomes a POW, Jolie is set on canonizing him.
    Still, Unbroken is a compelling drama. The scenes of Louis’ struggle to survive at sea are the best in the film, offering humor, drama, horror, action and a compelling narrative.
    If you long for the Old Hollywood war films that feature square-jawed do-gooders who never waver from their commitment to God and country, Unbroken is well worth the ticket. If you’re looking for a more nuanced portrayal of Zamperini’s life, pick up Laura Hillenbrand’s biography instead.

Fair Drama • PG-13 • 137 mins.

Great performances marred by poor focus

A story based on real events, Foxcatcher focuses on Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum: The Book of Life), a gold-winning Olympic wrestler who believes he deserves better. His life is cramped and overshadowed by older brother David (Mark Ruffalo: Begin Again). Himself a gold medalist, David has achieved the standing Mark longs for.
    Mark finds his way out in John du Pont (Steve Carell: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), the eccentric heir to the du Pont fortune. A lifelong wrestling fan, du Pont seeks to create a competitive wrestling team around Mark.
    Mark accepts what seems like a dream job and moves to the du Pont estate in Pennsylvania. But John du Pont has a tenuous hold on reality. He buys army tanks to drive around his grounds and practices shooting with the police. When du Pont carries a loaded gun into the gym to motivate the Foxcatcher wrestlers, Mark realizes he’s made a grave mistake.
    Concerned for his brother, David takes a position on team Foxcatcher, putting the three men on a collision course.
    Foxcatcher should be a gripping drama about a mentally ill man with enough money and influence to do as he pleases. Instead, director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) offers an unfocused mess of a film that doesn’t know whose story it’s telling, Mark or David’s.
    Du Pont wanders in and out of scenes like an old-money Bertha Mason, remaining largely a threatening but undeveloped presence. He’s the most dynamic and interesting character in the piece, but Miller is uninterested in him. In 134 minutes, he certainly had time to examine the heir.
    Despite confusion, Foxcatcher features three excellent performances. Always a reliable performer, Ruffalo works hard in an underwritten role to give his character emotional depth. A smart family man and excelling athlete who loves his brother, David is so saintly you assume his receding hairline is caused by his halo abrading his forehead.
    As Mark, Tatum uses his impressive physicality to create a brutish character who prefers to avoid thinking. While hulking through the scenes with mouth agape, Tatum displays sparks of deep hurt and fear. His Mark is a tragic figure who understands that he’s trapped but doesn’t know how to extricate himself.
    With the showiest role in the piece, Carell builds du Pont’s mania slowly, making it easy to dismiss him, at first, as a rich eccentric. As his behavior becomes more disturbing, we share Mark’s dawning realization.

Fair Drama • R • 134 mins.

Our new home welcomed us by testing our resourcefulness

Clara and I moved piece by piece to our new home in Deale. We started moving our belongings from College Park on Thanksgiving Day of 1990, using our station wagon and neighbors’ trucks. Most of the move was made on weekends. Mid-week, one of us would make the trip to Deale to feed Pumpkin, the cat left behind by the previous owners. We selected the name Upakrik Farm while eating dinner in a restaurant in Wayson’s Corner on a return trip to College Park.
    We finished our moving on December 24.
    That’s when we discovered that the furnace was not working. The cause was simple: The fuel tank was empty.
    We had purchased the house with the understanding that there was oil in the tank. But there was no external gauge. A calibrated stick had to be inserted through the fill pipe to measure the amount of oil still in the tank. We hadn’t measured the level, though we’d conserved fuel oil, setting the house thermostat at 55 degrees during the move. Now what oil had been in the tank was all gone.
    Our urgent call to the fuel oil distributer gave us no hope. Because we were new to the area, no delivery would be made until our credit was verified. On Christmas Eve, verification was impossible.
    But there was a small wood-burning boiler connected to the oil-fired boiler, and about a cord of wood was left behind the garage. I used experience and knowledge I’d gained from working for my dad, who was a plumbing and heating contractor, to disconnect the electrical wires to the circulator pump of the hot water system, fasten a plug to the wires and connect the circulator to a duplex outlet. This was necessary because the circulator would not function unless the oil burner was operating. I then fired up the wood boiler to warm the house. The wood-fired boiler required a fresh supply every hour to keep the house confortable.
    So we were pretty warm as we spent our first Christmas at the farm putting things in their proper place and getting organized. We were warmer still when we hopped into the hot spa in the family room to bathe in warm bubbly water. Both our girls drove up from College Park to join us.
    Southern Maryland Oil made a delivery of fuel on December 26, and I reconnected the circulating pump to the oil burner circuit.
    Despite that first day, we have never regretted moving to Deale from College Park. The solitude of living in the country has combined with many new friends to make us appreciate life to its fullest.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Feel the tension of holding fate in your hands

Twelve Angry Men was first produced in the mid-1950s as a play for television, then reworked for the stage and, of course, the famed movie with an all-star cast led by Henry Fonda. Having sat through the trial of an inner-city young man accused of murder, the all-male jury must come up with a unanimous decision of guilty or not guilty. On first vote, it’s 11-1 in favor of guilty. The lone holdout — a meticulous middle-aged man sticking to his convictions among 11 of his peers who want to convict and go home — has enough questions about the seemingly obvious case that reasonable doubt, racism and the fragility of justice permeate the play — sometimes slowly and sometimes with an explosion of passion.
    2nd Star Productions is known for staging big musicals at the 150-seat Bowie Playhouse, with the occasional straight play tossed in. For Twelve Angry Men, 2nd Star has teamed up to present the drama in the Odenton space used by a new arts group, West Arundel Creative Arts, to provide visual and performing arts classes to local children.
    The large, open first floor of an office building is upon entry a little off-putting, what with the fluorescent lights and low ceilings that are the antithesis of most real theater spaces. The stage space is simply a long table for 12 in the middle of the floor, with one wall separating backstage from stage and providing for entrances and exits. With the actors on the same floor as the audience — who surround them on three sides — and with the entire room lit, audience members often see as much of each other as of the cast.
    But director Jane Wingard and a very capable cast soon turn our attention from each other to center stage, where sincere and very carefully crafted characters make us feel the tension of holding the fate of a life in one’s hands.
    2nd Star sets the play in the present day. The addition of several African-American cast members to the deliberating dozen creates some interesting counterpoint to the script, which, while written in a far different era, now, especially in the context of recent events, reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
    The protagonist in this case is juror No. 8, played by Gene Valendo, a 2nd Star veteran who brings a polite yet passionate determination that despite the overwhelming odds, the road to reasonable doubt must be followed through to its conclusion. Valendo does a fine job here, balancing his character’s solid belief that a youngster shouldn’t be put to death unless the case against him is irreproachable, with the points made by others who insist guilt has been proved.
    Juror No. 1, the foreman, is deftly played by Brad Eaton, whose interest in wrapping up a guilty verdict quickly is soon surpassed by his responsibility to keep things under control. The de facto foreman, in fact, ends up being juror No. 4, played by Ben Harris with an initially cool detachment and insistence that everyone be heard. His detachment simmers until, later in the play, it erupts into an angry nearly physical confrontation with juror No. 10, a racist whose rant about how they are not good for anything and are guilty by skin color takes the breath away from the entire room — including audience. As embodied by Tom Hartzell, this juror’s racism of the 1950s reminds us that, 60 years later, we still have a long way to go.
    As juror No. 3, Ken Kienas is effective as the angry man whose frustration votes changed to not guilty spills over into near violence. That effectiveness could be even more real with a bit more modulation in his voice, which at first is always set to 10 on the volume knob. Jerry Khatcheressian, another local community theater veteran, gives us the sincerity of one who has come to this country from far worse conditions than he meets in the U.S.A. as juror No. 11. The rest of the jurors — Richard Blank, Larry Griffin, Daley Gunter, Nick Thompson, Anders Tighe and Andre Foster — all prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
    A few misplaced ad-libs and a touch of slowness in cue pickup during the first act gave way in the second act to the all-in dive into these characters.
    This is a true ensemble effort that takes playgoers out of the fluorescence and drop ceilings of an Odenton business space into a dirty, cramped big-city jury room whose air is heavy with the weight of determining justice.


    Judge: Kim Ethridge. Assistant director: Steve Andrews. Lighting and sound technician: Matt Andrews. Stage manager (and guard): Joanne Wilson. Two hours with intermission.

    ThFSa 8pm; Su 3pm: West Arundel Creative Arts, Odenton. $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Fish, fowl, venison — and winter greens

Eating wild is a priority at my family’s table. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, we feature treats we’ve harvested from the wild. Following are a few favorites.

Appetizers

Rockfish Ceviche

Two rockfish fillets or other firm, white fish (about 1.5 lbs.), sliced into pieces approximately
½ x 2 inches
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil.
1½ large sweet onions, cut in half lengthwise, then very thinly sliced
2 to 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, chopped
4 lemons
4 limes

    Put fish in glass. Add all ingredients, then gently mix. Add freshly squeezed juice of lemon and lime to cover the ingredients in the bowl. Gently mix again so that all pieces are exposed to the juices. Cover and refrigerate at least five hours, better yet, overnight.
    Taste and adjust spices. Serve drained on a bed of lettuce with a garnish of thinly chopped spring onions plus a side of French or artisan bread or your favorite crackers.

Broiled Breast of Dove

    Wrap each dove breast in a piece of thick-cut, smoke-cured bacon. Broil in oven, turning once.
    Remove when bacon begins to crisp. Serve with a dusting of paprika.

Entrées

Waterfowl Medallions

    Fillet breast meat from a goose or duck and, slicing against the grain, cut into medallion-sized pieces abou three-quarters-inch thick. Marinate overnight in olive oil, rosemary, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
    Drop pieces individually onto a hot cast-iron skillet and quickly brown both sides. Remove and store in a shallow bowl in warm oven.
    Deglaze the skillet with one-half stick butter and one-quarter cup brandy. Drizzle over the browned medallions. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Venison Tenderloin

    Cut a 12- to 18-inch section of venison tenderloin, rub with coarse-grained salt and puncture thoroughly with a fork. Marinate overnight in olive oil, chopped basil and generous amounts of minced garlic and fresh-ground black pepper.
    Prepare grill and scatter wet mesquite chips over charcoal (if using a gas grill, wrap wet wood chips in foil and puntcure several times with a fork). Cook covered but with vents open. Turn once. Remove when internal temperature of the roast reaches 120 degrees. Cover with foil and let stand 15 minutes.
    Melt one stick butter, add a good squeeze of fresh lemon, stir and drizzle over sliced tenderloin. Serve garnished with pickled green peppercorns and a dusting of paprika.

Collard Greens

    Rinse, stem and chop two pounds of greens. Combine in saucepan two bottles of beer, two tablespoons olive oil, one-half cup chopped country ham and salt and pepper. Add greens and simmer until tender.
    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Bon Appetit!

There is more to victory than lights and superstition

About the annual Army-Navy football game, superstitions abound.
    When I lived across from the Academy, I’d get up in the chilly dark of morning and stand on the cliff, waving good luck to the busses parked along the seawall to leave with the Brigade.  
    When my wife and I moved to Annapolis, I needed a new ritual. Now I decorate the tulip magnolia in front of our house. When I can no longer watch Navy screw up on the field, I go outside and string the lights. The rule is that I must finish by game’s end.
    I realized early in this year’s game that I was going to be spending most of the first half outside. Navy looked out of sync, and Army was knocking the players around like rag dolls.
    But in the middle of the second quarter with Army leading 7-0, I panicked. Many of my light strings were dead. I needed more lights.
    At the Rite Aide, where I had purchased my lights about five years ago, the cupboard was bare. So, I headed for the Home Depot on Defense Highway, listening on the radio to Omar Nelson bemoaning the Navy running strategy and predicting that the Mids would have to start passing if they were going to win the game. Home Depot had shelves to the ceiling filled with lights. But not the simple, non-LED, 100-foot string of white lights I was looking for.  
    At the Home Depot in Parole, the only lights left were those icicles that drip from every gutter, even out of season.
    Where could I get some lights?
    Then I remembered True Value Hardware on Forest Drive.
    Traffic was light, no doubt because everyone was home watching Navy’s lethargic performance. On the radio, Army was driving for another score, and it was fourth and one from Navy’s 30 with under three minutes to go in the half.
    I had to find some lights. And fast!
    As I sailed by Heritage Baptist Church, Navy miraculously recovered an Army fumble. Omar Nelson was practically screaming into his microphone, Pass it to Tillman!
    As I pulled into True Value, Navy scored — on a pass to Tillman. The point after was good and the half ended with the score tied 7-7.
    I really like an old-fashioned hardware store, and Jared Littmann has a great one. I was glad to return to the scale of shopping where birds do not occupy the rafters and I do not get lost.
    Transfixed, I walked narrow aisles crammed with all sorts of neat gadgets until I came to the aisle with the Christmas lights. I found what I thought I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to open the box. A guy merrily stocking shelves smiled and confirmed that I had found the right ones.
    I bought five boxes of lights for $25 and headed home.
    When I walked into my house Navy was marching down the field. But the drive stalled at the Army 30, and the Mids tried a 45-yard field goal. I was shocked when it sailed through the middle of the uprights. Navy was leading for the first time in the game.
    Then Army got the ball and started marching toward the Navy goal line.
    It was time to finish decorating my tree.
    I had all these new lights and I was totally psyched to do the best job ever. Using my jump rope technique, I swung the lights slowly back and forth, then looped them over the branches. I was in Zen mode and couldn’t miss my target.
    I had no idea what was happening with the game, but I knew that Navy was going to win.
    Back inside, I saw Navy recover another Army fumble and begin eating up big yards as they headed for another score. This time a goal-line scrum on third down that looked more like rugby than football put Navy ahead by 10 with under four minutes to play.
    Army wasn’t finished. They started rolling down the field. When the drive stalled on the Navy 35, Army trotted out their field goal kicker, who nailed a 52-yard zinger.
    I must confess that I was silently rooting for him to make it.
    After 12 years of Army heartbreak, I felt sorry for the team. I wanted Navy to win, but I cheered when Army’s kick sailed through the uprights.
    It was now down to an onside kick. I am sure that Navy fans all over the globe were freaking out. I was calm as could be. Navy was going to catch the kick, run out the clock and secure a 13th straight victory.
    It was dark by now, and my Christmas lights sparkled in the tree outside my window.
    I stood in my living room at attention as the Army players cried their way through their battle hymn before singing Navy Blue & Gold with the Brigade.
    The Army-Navy game is special. There is nothing like it in sport. As a former midshipman from the Class of ’75, who did not graduate, I know the sting of defeat.
    But this year I learned an important lesson. There is more to victory than lights and superstitions. Army was more inspiring in defeat than Navy was in victory.

The light is thin this time of year. But the sun shines bright enough on its rising and falling arc to gild everything in its path: windows, tree trunks, the marsala leaves of oaks, clouds and the heavens. That arc is brief, however, as we inch toward the darkest day of the year. On winter solstice, December 21, the sun gives us only nine hours and 28 minutes of light.
    Snatch the light while you can, my instincts tell me, so I watch the long dawn. Sitting through the late sunrises of these mornings — 7:20am on the solstice, Sunday — puts me on rush the rest of the short day. Even at solstice, darker mornings are still to come. This winter’s latest sunrise waits on the new year. Sunrise is 7:25am on Sunday, January 4.
    The sun’s long thin rays also light up human memory. Up in the treetops, the light show I saw this pre-solstice morning can’t be much different than a winter illumination seen by our prehistoric ancestors for whom the failing light was the biggest deal on Earth. What kinship that realization gives me, generation by generation in the march through time!
    This drive we feel to ward off the impending dark is nothing new. We who now walk the Earth use electricity as our strategic weapon, plugging in strands of lights all along the spectrum to shout take that! into the darkness.
    The darkest day, winter solstice, marks our turn to the bright side.
    So it’s all in the great weave of things that the celebrations of several great religious traditions converge at this time of year. Each welcomes the return of light; most, specifically the sun.
    America’s widespread Christmas celebration unites many traditions.
    For Christians everywhere, Christmas marks the birth of Christ, son of God. This celebration is the miracle of faith, the union of God with humankind bringing light to the world.
    The Christian tradition gives us Jesus born to Mary in Bethlehem, his birth marked by a brilliant star that marked the path the Three Kings followed to his manger.
    Santa Claus is likely an avatar of the god Odin transmuted into Old Man Winter and Father Christmas, Christianized by association with Saint Nicholas, a Turkish-born Greek Christian whose generosity and preternatural powers spread his reverence throughout Europe, from Russia to England.
    Evergreens are Norse icons as well, trees brought in and decorated to encourage the releafing of deciduous trees and the wreath, perhaps, originating as a circle of evergreen set afire and rolled downhill to lure back the sun.
    Days of parties with feasting, drinking and bonfires enliven every tradition, and on all sides gifts are given.
    Separate but similar is the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, a festival of lights honoring the miraculous endurance of the Temple lamp for eight days when its oil should have lasted only one. Hence the eight branches of the menorah and eight nights of festivities and gifts.
    Jews, Christians, pagans and sun-worshippers: With so many categories of faith, most of us can get into the swing of this season.
    We do at Bay Weekly, where it’s our tradition to illuminate your holidays with stories that turn up the light. This year Dotty Doherty takes her turn as our narrator, traveling to Germany to tell a story about the complex layering of history.
    On the lighter side, first-time contributor Dominic Laiti writes of Christmas trees, which can add their own complexities to our celebrations of comfort and joy.
    Santa Claus gets his story too, recounted by Michelle Steel, who shares her home with the real deal, who many readers of a certain age will recognize.
    More holiday fare is served by sportsman Dennis Doyle and Bay Gardener Dr. Frank Gouin.
    May your celebrations — of whatever — be merry and bright.
    We’ll see you next on December 24 with the Best of the Bay.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Put these tools — not useless ­garden gadgets — under the ­Christmas tree

I hope you had a laugh over my column on useless garden gadgets two weeks back. This week I’m turning serious, suggesting useful tools the gardeners on your holiday shopping list will want and use.
    The Garden Bench and Kneeler is great, especially for us older gardeners. Getting down on your knees is easy; getting up is hard. The Garden Bench and Kneeler pad is easy on the knees, and the handles are a great help in getting up. I have had mine for years. When you get tired, turn the kneeler up and you have a bench to sit on.
    The Garden Stamp or Dibble Board is ideal for maximizing garden space as it provides the proper spacing for transplanting or sowing seeds. Different boards are made for different crops. Rake the garden smooth before pressing the board into the soil. Then sow seeds or transplant in the indentations made by the stamp. I have made them for my own garden using old broomsticks, dowels and scrap lumber.
    Gator Bags or Arbor Rain Bags are very effective for transplanting trees and shrubs and for keeping young trees alive, without wasting water, during drought. Installed around the base of newly planted trees or shrubs and filled with water, the bags release the water slowly into the soil for days so the root ball stays moist until new roots grow out into the soil. They’re also easy to fill.
    The Garden Weed Torch is a great way of killing weeds growing in the cracks of sidewalks, in gravel-mulched beds and along ditches without having to use weed killers. A quick flash from a flame kills weeds without damaging concrete or stones, and it doesn’t leave any residue.
    Okatsune Shears, made from the same process used for making Samurai swords, are great for cutting plants. Long handles make them easier to use.
    Pruners and loppers by Felco and Corona keep their cutting edge with very little sharpening. For pruning branches eight to 12 feet above your head, use long-reach pruners. Carry hand pruners in a sheath attached to your belt to prevent injury.
    The Soil Knife is a great tool for dividing perennials, for digging holes when transplanting and for lifting seedlings from the soil. Mine is a Japanese gardener’s knife with a blade about two inches wide and cupped for digging, so it can be used in place of a trowel for planting. One edge of its blade is saw-toothed, while the other can be sharpened. Also purchase the sheath for carrying it.
    Soil thermometers are useful in determining when to start planting certain crops. For instance, corn seeds should not be planted until after the soil is 60 degrees or warmer. A long-shank thermometer is helpful in monitoring microbial activity in compost piles. An active compost pile should read 130 to 140 degrees. When temperatures drop below 100 degrees, it is time to turn the compost.    
    The Weed Stick and Weed Wick are safe and effective for applying herbicides with minimal environmental impact. The Stick and Wick apply the herbicides only in a limited area, thus preventing potential problems associated with sprays. Apply the chemicals based on manufacturer’s recommendations.
    The Weed Bandit hoe is my favorite because of its long rake handle and stainless steel head with a corrugated blade that stays sharp. I like the small Weed Bandit for hoeing onions and closely planted plants, and the medium blade Weed Bandit for all other weeding work.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

The Geminid meteors are unique

This week’s celestial highlight is the annual Geminid meteor shower, which peaks late Saturday and before sunrise Sunday. This coincides with the rising waning moon, which just shy of last-quarter still shines quite bright. Fortunately, the Geminids are some of the brightest “shooting stars,” and given patience and a dark spot away from urban glare, you could still expect to see one or two meteors each minute. Plus the Geminids generate a fair number of meteors for several days before and after the peak.
    Like all meteor showers, the Geminids occur as earth passes through a trail/stream of cosmic dust and detritus. As these bits of rock and ice hit our atmosphere, they burst into flames. While the end results are the same, the source of the Geminids’ debris trail is unique. In every other case, these trails of debris are left by comets orbiting the earth in the same way as the planets. The source of the Geminids, however, is a five-kilometer asteroid, known as 3200 Phaethon, that passes between the sun and Mercury every 1.4 years.
    And where comets orbit the sun with a long tail releasing a trail of flotsam, 3200 Phaethon has no tail but somehow produces a trail of debris anywhere from five to 500 times larger than any spawned of comets. Instead of a tail of its own releasing fragments as it’s heated by the sun, 3200 Phaethon pulls bits of dust and debris into its wake as it travels the solar system in a way astronomers are still trying to explain.
    Many meteor showers have been seen since the dawn of civilization, but not the Geminids. They were first noted in 1862 — simultaneously — by an American and a British astronomer, who each recorded an average of 14 meteors an hour. Year by year, that number grew, even as astronomers searched for the shower’s source. Then in 1983, armed with the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, they found 3200 Phaethon to be the parent of the Geminids. By that time, the shower had grown to an average of 120 meteors an hour under good conditions!
    With clear skies you can see the spawn of 3200 Phaethon anywhere in the dark sky, but all point back to the constellation Gemini.
    While you’re at it, look for Jupiter rising in the east-northeast around 10pm and high in the south come dawn. Saturn rises just ahead of the sun in the east-southeast. And Venus and Mars are both visible after sunset.

This community collaboration ­delivers a sleigh full of holiday cheer

What do you get when you introduce a variety of memorable Christmas characters and nursery rhyme originals to a romantic hero and two scheming evildoers plus their naughty toy followers?
    A recipe for holiday cheer, Babes in Toyland, adapted for the stage by Twin Beach Players’ president Sid Curl, with additional dialogue by Matthew Konerth and Valerie Heckart.
    The play has undergone adjustment since it was first performed by Twin Beach Players in 2009, Curl reports. As well as reworked dialogue, a Master Toymaker antagonist was added. Two casts of children plus a few adults form this 70-member community ensemble.
    Directed by Rob and Valerie Heckart, this colorful holiday spectacle overflows with cuteness. From the moment our memorable fairy tale and nursery rhyme favorites take the stage, the audience, both adults and children, is rewarded with a spirited and playful performance.
    We meet Mother Goose, Mother Hubbard and their fabled family of youngsters: Jack and Jill, Little Miss Muffet, Bo Peep and her wandering sheep, Mary Contrary, Simple Simon, Curly Locks and Boy Blue. Polly Flinders, Georgy Porgy, the rascally-yet-playful Rodrigo and Gonzorgo brothers, and Tom Tom are also part of the family. In concert with Santa’s busy elves and toys, all merrily stroll about the stage and sing their opening song to an accompanied, taped rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
    As the plot unfolds, we meet the ruthless Barnaby, owner of much of the town neighboring the North Pole, who is intent on transforming the village into an amusement park and on wedding Mary Contrary in exchange for pardoning Mother Hubbard’s rent debt. Partnering with him is the Master Toymaker who has plans to replace the vacationing Santa Claus and rule the North Pole.
    All is not lost when Delancy Marmaduke, a puppeteer by trade, comes to town and is smitten with Mary Contrary. Nursery rhyme children provide support for Santa’s elves, while marching soldiers square off, horrid toys clash and Santa returns in a force of polar opposites.
    Sight gags, strobe lights, diabolical laughing, conga lines and interactive engagement draw laughter from the audience. Bright and imaginative costumes and expressive portrayals set off simple stage lighting and set design, taped songs and timed holiday background music. Despite publicly acknowledged technical issues, actors and crew embrace the challenges to perform admirably together. That is the spirit of community.
    Does it take a village? You bet it does. Santa’s village.


Fri., Sat. 7pm; Sun. 3pm: North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.