Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The Butterfingers Angel
The most serious issue is that the narrative feels confused and rushed for much of the first act. This is the greatest story ever told, from Mary's virgin pregnancy to the birth of Christ. But it might also be a story about people putting on a play about the Nativity. But it's not clear that is what is going on, because we never learn who they are or why they are doing it, and at some point the whole play within a play idea simply vanishes completely. The pace and storytelling is on track by act two, but my sense that the cast does not know exactly what type of play they are putting on (straightforward or self-aware? irreverent or inspiring? glib or serious?) is never resolved. The confusion isn't merely existential–more than once it seems like the cast does not know exactly where they are meant to enter or sit or stand. There are some excellent performances, but one serious casting blunder.
DJ Gleason is sweetly fumbling and earnestly struggling as the Angel. Jenna Kuerzi plays Mary with ample charm and a modern sensibility that makes the story feel surprisingly relevant. The funniest performance of the night comes from the elegant and increasingly frustrated Elise Hudson as the Tree. Despite their evident talent, none of these actors makes any connection with Neill Hartley, whose unfortunately stilted performance as the aging and agitated Joseph brings the show to a screeching halt. Hartley's labored and awkward dialogue is a low point of the play.
The best part of The Butterfingers Angel is having carols interspersed throughout the story. Great vocals and excellent energy abound during these numbers. It is easy to feel the spirit of the season while the cast is singing and strumming "We Three Kings," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and "Away in a Manger." It always adds something special when the actors are really playing their instruments on stage, and Shannon Zura's sound design fills the space beautifully.
The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree runs from through December 23, 2022, at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, Roy A. Smith Mainstage, 226 N. High Street, West Chester PA. For information and tickets, please visit uptownwestchester.org.