Though Helen Borgers, esteemed artistic director of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC), has recently died after an extended hospital stay, the company is continuing production of the plays she had envisioned through 2018.
First among them is the delightful Wakefield Second Shepherds’ Play, a medieval Christmas pageant, directed by Borgers’s protégé Brandon Alexander Cutts and continuing through Dec. 17 at the Richard Goad Theatre.
The play’s title comes from its author, known only as the “Wakefield master,” and that this is the second “shepherd” play in his series. It combines two stories– a simple mystery involving a stolen sheep hidden in a cradle plus a miraculous “mystery play” of the birth of the Christ child.
In the first part of this hour-long tale, three shepherds lament about the weather and wives while watching their sheep. The dialogue is all in rhymes, impressively recited by all the actors.
Always-effective LBSC veteran Leonardo Lerma as flute-playing shepherd Coll introduces us to the time and place as two Roman soldiers occupying Nazareth forcibly take his cloak, leaving him to freeze in the winter cold.
He is soon joined by fellow shepherds Gib (a solid Andy Kallok), who delivers a scathing (though still rhyming) review of marriage, and Daw (Garret Martinez), who carries a very cute stuffed-animal sheep.
Soon, however, Mac (Eduardo Mora), who has a reputation for thievery, absconds with Daw’s sheep while the shepherds sleep. Mac’s wife Gill (a brilliantly emotive Sarah Hoeven) hides the sheep in a cradle as they await the shepherds’ inevitable search. Will the little sheep be discovered before being devoured by the greedy couple?
Later, a visitation by an angel (Lucy J’Aime) summons the three shepherds to nearby Bethlehem where a baby has been born in a manger. Like the biblical Wise Men, only meeker, each shepherd offers a simple gift within his means, such as cherries, to the baby in its cradle.
The scene is lovingly rendered, with a second angel, (Hoeven) all in white, hovering over Mary (J’Aime) and Joseph (Mora) and the baby as the three shepherds humbly offer their blessings.
Songs infuse the play, as well (music directed by Edmund Velasco), from the simple nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to Christmas carols such as “Silent Night” and “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” which the actors sing harmonically.
Simplicity is key in this production, with its spare set design (Tim Leach) and costumes of plain robes and head coverings (Dana Leach), which complement the unpretentious story.
Written sometime between 1400 and 1450, the play was originally performed on the streets, the director’s program note tells us, its modesty countering Charles Dickens’s assessment a century later that Christmas is when “want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”
If you already need a break from hectic holiday excess, take an hour’s respite at the Richard Goad Theatre to see The Wakefield Second Shepherds’ Play. You’ll be lulled by its rhyming language and song and gently reminded that Christmas is about giving rather than greed.
The Wakefield Second Shepherds’ Play continues at the Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through Dec. 17, with shows Fridays (except Dec. 1) and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $12.50 to $22.50. For tickets and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org.