“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go,” wrote 19th-century poet Lydia Maria Child. Actually, the same route might take you to the Allendale Theatre. It’s not grandma’s. Close, though. It’s a safe haven and there are cookies.
For there, right now and through the next two weekends, is a revival of “A Little House Christmas,” an adaptation of several books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the “Little House on the Prairie” series, particular favorites of preteen girls around the globe and probably most kids. Buffalo’s Theatre of Youth Company (TOY) is reprising the play, an adaptation for the stage by James DeVita, and company chief Meg Quinn has assembled an almost entirely new cast from a few seasons back: Larry Smith, Kim Meurer, Faith Walh, Emma Najdzionek, Christina Rausa (the lone returnee), Keeley Tundo, James Heffron, Eric Rawski and Tyler Eisenmann.
The story is a simple retelling of Christmas at the Ingalls – maybe Wisconsin, Missouri or Kansas, wilds and woods and creeks, and somewhere in Indian territory, circa 1870s-80s. There’s Ma and Pa Ingalls, two daughters – steady Mary, precocious Laura – and a stream of visiting friends, all bearing gifts and goodies, ready to eat, dance and storytell. Good will bubbles over even while a gosh-darn gullywasher brews outside, one that eventually cuts the festivities short. The old bridge down the road is in danger of washing out so Pa, Uncle George and Mr. Edwards – a gentle, jovial giant – set off to get everyone home safely and, if possible, fix the road. Bad timing, it being the holiday and all.
Mary and Laura are worried that Santa Claus might be stymied by the weather. After all, if Pa – durable, indestructible – is in danger “out there,” what chance does Santa have?
Ma worries but reassures, the girls fret. The fireplace – a sturdy beauty by TOY set designer Ken Shaw – goes cold and it is beginning to look pretty bleak. Life on the prairie.
Well, not to worry. It ends well. “A Little House Christmas” is a perfect piece for TOY. There is always a moral or message in the plays Quinn chooses, and this one has many kind and good moments and a giving, caring spirit that goes home with its young audience. It’s a sweet, charming, straightforward 90 minutes. It can cloy but it always seems to snap back to real people saying real things.
The ensemble works well together, notably because of 11-year-old Faith Walh, a TOY veteran, as spunky Laura. She is great fun, shrieks aside. Actors Smith and Meurer are unflappable as Pa and Ma. And burly Rawski, as Edwards, spreads joy and mischief.
“A Little House Christmas,” back again and welcome, has a timeless premise and remains heartwarming. It’s a familiar but feel-good reminder of the season.