Like the pages on which they're written, Christmastime stories tend to crumble with age. Yet this play, adapted from Barbara Robinson's book 10 years after its 1972 publication, feels remarkably fresh. The Herdman clan fights, talks about "sexy things" and smokes. When they're told church is a place to get "all the candy they want," they show up and decide they want the leading roles in the annual Christmas pageant. Cue the disaster choruses. Robinson's message on the spirit of the holidays is gently delivered but deeply moving. Though written in a light-hearted manner, the play's undercurrents of sadness cut deep. Upon hearing the Christmas story for the first time and finding Mary and Joseph's barnyard delivery room unfit, the Herdmans nonchalantly assert, "Where was child welfare? They're at our house every five minutes!" But director Nicole Dominguez does the play a disservice by glossing over the most poignant moment in favor of a snazzy "Silent Night." A story about overlooked children finally feeling special and understood is timeless. No need to modernize what is, unfortunately, still modern. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (562) 494-1014.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Dec. 3. Continues through Dec. 24, 2011