Two little girls in cowboy outfits prance around onstage. They can’t be older than twelve. They turn a few cartwheels and back-flips, more or less synchronized. Their little sister joins them onstage and goes through a few awkward dance steps before the three of them strike a pose. Their relatives in the audience, their 91 year-old grandfather and their overbearing stage mother, lead the applause.
He is not a relative, and he is not applauding. He fingers the tiny pinecone on the pine wreath in front of him at his table. The pine needles are plastic, but is the cone real or not? It feels real. He glances next to him at his girlfriend, who gazes up at him sympathetically. On the stage, her father, playing a rancher whose cattle have been rustled, argues with the man he thinks is responsible. Except it isn’t this man, but the scheming general store owner and his henchman who have been stealing from the herds of both men and pitting them against each other. All of this was made obvious by a series of increasingly embarrassing song-and-dance numbers. As in most musicals, the songs functioned as soliloquies, explaining every nuance of plot and character and draining the story of every last bit of mystery and interest it otherwise might have held.
The shy, nervous son of the owners of the camp gets most of the Broadway numbers, along with someone they all assume is his girlfriend. The songs are total garbage, and they come at them pretty quick, one every few minutes. More lines are sung than spoken, which is unfortunate, since no one in the cast is at all a good singer, and most of them seem uncomfortable with what they have been asked to do. In years past, despite the poor writing and heavy-handed “come to Jesus” proselytizing, the Christmas shows were redeemed by how much fun the performers seemed to be having. This year, it seems like a chore.
The story of the cattle rustlers and endangered orphans (orphans on the verge of homelessness are a recurring theme in Christmas plays at Antietam Rec) is interrupted four times by lengthy “wild west show” sequences that serve as a wobbly pretext for the older son of the camp’s owners to give exhibitions of his prowess with lassos and bullwhips. Though the play is set in the old west, the roping demonstrations feature strobe lights and lasers.
His girlfriend’s father reappears to trade a few quips and drop some obvious exposition. His girlfriend’s father is not happy with the play this year, but gives it his all nonetheless. Of all the actors, he feels sorry for his girlfriend’s father the most.
As the girls return for a reprise of their amateur-hour gymnastics act, he pulls the little pinecone off the plastic wreath and pops it into his mouth. He closes his eyes as he chews. It is real, and it is delicious.