Coney Island Christmas

Young Shirley (Inigo O’Brien of Ottumwa) shares the news of the Christmas pageant with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abramowitz (Joseph Culp of Pleasantville and Peyton Nelson of Ottumwa).

OTTUMWA — Step back in time with the cast of “Coney Island Christmas.”

While the Indian Hills Community College production is a holiday show, director Dr. Jennifer Boyenga said they were not specifically looking for one.

“We read a lot of different plays. Our goal was to have a play to give lots of new students experience on stage playing a lot of different characters in one show,” she said. “Coney Island Christmas gave the cast exciting opportunities to expand their skills, from individuals learning to work on multiple characters, to developing plausible Brooklyn accents. But the students have risen to the challenge to create this charming memory play.”

Most of the actors play anywhere from three to five characters in the show. “It gives them lots of different characters to play in one production,” she said. “It just so happened we picked a Christmas show.”

What drew her to the show was the feel of the show itself. Boyenga described it as “very nostalgic” while incorporating a variety of traditions from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

“There’s all kinds of holiday traditions that are present in the show. There’s Christian traditions, Jewish traditions, there are other traditions like ‘The Night Before Christmas,’” so there’s something for everyone.

“It’s also funny, which helps, too,” she added.

The show, set in 1935, focuses on a Jewish New York family that has immigrated from Europe. “They are experiencing what the Christmas/holiday season is like in the United States,” Boyenga said.

The play is based on “The Loudest Voice,” a 1959 short story by Grace Paley. It was adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies and first performed in 2012. Boyenga said the show has only been available for production for two years, so she was excited at the thought of putting on a brand-new show.

“This show seems simple on the surface,” said Dr. Ray Slavens, technical director, “but once we got into it, the set, costumes, props, lighting and sound all provided fun challenges.”

Boyenga said rehearsals for the cast of 25 began at the end of September.

A release from IHCC says the story centers on Shirley and her great-granddaughter Clara as she prepares to perform her first school Christmas pageant, pending recovery of a sore throat. Shirley begins to reminisce about her childhood during the Great Depression as Clara’s school teachers prepare for the pageant, wondering who will be the best performer for the lead role.

“It’s definitely about culture, diversity and the immigrant experience. It’s very timely with the way our world is. Even though it’s set in 1935, it’s very timely for today,” Boyenga said. “I thought the show itself was absolutely charming and a feel-good show so that when you leave, you should feel like you’re in the holiday spirit.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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