Direction by Katie Harrison is crisp, even if the first act does feel a bit long. The characters in the play are introduced and well established, ensuring that audience members with no previous knowledge of the Ingalls family will hold them close to their hearts for years to come. The second act is emotionally powerful in its gentle reminders of why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Mary and Laura are devastated that Santa Claus won't be able to cross the creek and deliver presents for them. Unable to sleep on Christmas Eve, the girls decide to make handmade gifts for Ma and Pa, so that they will have something to open on Christmas morning. Katie Harrison's cast, from beginning to end, magnificently plays their characters so that these moments can be touching, sentimental, and sweet.
As Laura and Mary, Natalie Pawalek and Lauren Dolk are the stars of the show. Utilizing the dynamic bond of sisterhood present in Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels, they perfectly understand the vibrant relationship the sister's share and expertly bring it to life on stage for the audience to enjoy and cherish. Natalie Pawalek's Laura is a tomboy that loves to help her father with his chores and to play outside. Lauren Dolk's Mary is her mother's daughter, finding pleasure in helping with domestic duties. The actresses and the show itself embrace both of these feminine identities. Neither one is treated as being better than the other, and in a society that wants to cling so rigidly to stereotyped and inflexible gender roles for young girls, the actresses ensure that all girls will find themselves celebrated in at least one these two characters.
Amy Garner Buchanan's Ma Ingalls is mirthful and warm. She is a strong, loving matriarch that teaches and instills these values into her daughters while cherishing them for who they are.
Pa Ingalls, played by Alan Hall at the performance I saw, was a cheerful hard worker. His ability to tell a story was captivating, and significantly showcases to young audiences what life was like before television, movies, and smart phones.
Portraying Mrs. Oleson and Nellie Oleson, Zona Jane Meyer and Claire Anderson do great jobs of illustrating their superiority complexes while remaining likeable. The Oleson's are a city family with money and cannot understand why the Ingalls would live so far from town and rely on their own labors to provide food and shelter for the family. The rivalry between Nellie Oleson and the Ingalls girls is smartly played by Claire Anderson, but does not receive as much attention as it does in the TV show.
Mr. Edwards played by Rodrick Randall is a fun and humorous portrait of the hardships of pioneer life. He tries to win the children over by telling tales, but the kids are only interested in the stories of Pa Ingalls. He also brings a family-friendly dose of gritty realism to the show, explaining that he has no family to enjoy the holiday with. He and Ma Ingalls make arrangements for him to enjoy Christmas dinner with the Ingalls family, but after the rains make the creek impassable, it seemed that he wouldn't be able to come. Adding to the emotional climax of the show, Rodrick Randall's Mr. Edwards compassionately risks his own life to ensure that Mary and Laura get gifts from Santa Claus.
Nick and Peter, played by Curtis Barber and Chioke Coreathers, are youthful and energetic. They run about the stage and adroitly portray all the qualities of young boys that are busting with life.