In a clever touch, director Gregg Henry suggests that Homer’s exploits are coming at us from across the footlights of a 19th-century theater. Designer Dan Conway’s set encompasses a wooden stage and a proscenium; during Homer’s travels, a backdrop relays etching-like pictures whose components sometimes move, as if manipulated by 19th-century stagehands: When Homer hitches a ride on a hot-air balloon, for instance, glimpses of basket and buoyed fabric swing by.
The conceit complements a narrative that’s full of hijinks and enjoyably melodramatic heroes and villains. (Kathleen Geldard designed the atmospheric costumes.) Looking every inch the whippersnapper, Ryan Mercer infuses Homer with gutsy waifishness. But it’s the role-juggling supporting actors who appear to be having the most fun. For instance, Michael Russotto larks through the personas of — among others — a dim-witted clergyman, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and a cook whose effusive motherliness causes Homer acute embarrassment.
In other piquant turns, Joe Brack and Michael V. Sazonov swashbuckle around as none-too-bright brigands named Smelt and Stink; and Veronica del Cerro drolly conjures a ladylike scam artist and an earthy tattooed lady. Michael Glenn and James J. Johnson gracefully anchor the more serious roles of Mr. Brewster and Samuel Reed, two Underground Railroad operatives whose courageous actions allow the play to address the issues of slavery and abolition.
The Civil War also figures — indirectly — in “A Little House Christmas,” directed by Serge Seiden. Packaging an anecdote about a cozily hardscrabble prairie yuletide, James DeVita’s script introduces the figure of Uncle George, a Civil War veteran who is Pa Ingalls’s brother. Haunted by memories, Uncle George hovers mutely on the sidelines of the Ingalls family’s festivities until the attentiveness of young Laura cheers him up, leading to a joyous square dance. The incident drives home the play’s message: that Christmas is about generosity and togetherness, not material treats.
Robbie Gay’s ebulliently folksy portrayal of Pa and Jonathan Feuer’s quietly troubled depiction of George lend soul to the production, which can feel a little like an installation at a Homestead Act theme park. Young actors Katie Littleton and Maya Brettell are creditably spunky and decorous as Laura and Mary Ingalls, and a ringlet-sporting Caroline Coleman is splendidly disdainful as Nellie, the meanest girl in town.
On opening weekend, young audiences seemed spellbound by the 45-minute production, which unfurls on a log-cabin set designed by Jake K. Ewonus. But adults may yawn at all the aw-shucks earnestness: Pa is playing the fiddle! Ma is making ornaments from lace and dried flowers! The creek is rising again!
Landsakes! Where’s the Ghost of Christmas Present when you need him?
Wren is a freelance writer.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
adapted by Tom Isbell from Rodman Philbrick’s book. Directed by Gregg Henry; lighting design, Nancy Schertler; sound, Elisheba Ittoop; properties artisan, Tim Jones; fight choreographer, Joe Isenberg. 70 minutes. Recommended for age 8 and up. Through Dec. 9 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.
A Little House Christmas
adapted by James DeVita from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Directed by Serge Seiden; assistant director, Jacob Janssen; costume design, Kelsey Hunt; lighting, Sarah Tundermann; sound, Kenny Neal; properties, Andrea “Dre” Moore. With Hyla Matthews and Danny Pushkin. 45 minutes. Recommended for age 4 and up. Through Dec. 31 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Call 301-634-2270 or visit www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org.