The House Without A Christmas Tree

By Eleanor Perry based on a story by Gail Rock
Adapted for the stage by Doug Jarecki

Directed by John Cramer
December 1 to 17, 2017

Read the Review:
Waukesha Freeman, Wisconsin Theater Spotlight

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Photos By Carroll Studios Of Photography

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WCT projects are supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.

Cast (In Order Of Appearance)  

Rick Richter

James Mills

Julia Rady

Addie Mills

Denise Meagher

Sarah Mills

Katherine Rogers

Carla Mae Marcus

Alyx Minor

Peggy Thompson

Michael Stickney

Eugene Wilson

Dana Brzezinski

Sandy Kulwicki

Logan Franke

Daniel Kupinski

Anthony Gotcher

Stanley Tillman

Sahil Gupta

Stewart Schroeder

Paige Foster

Mary Steiner

Grace Munson

Susan Young

Aase Mattson

Tanya Roberts

Kieran Plautz

Billy Wilde

Bryanna Madson

Amy Kelly

Rose Kerwin

Gloria Kott

Vanessa Ruck

Judy Andraska

Ireland Anderson

Harriet Majchrzak

Ellyan Goeller

Louise Grittner

Tessa Imes Benischek

Daisy Klemm

William Kastner

Robert Dorsey

Keleous Lange

Edward Delancey

Calleigh Mills

Patty Ritkowski

Aidan Stickney

Paul Davidson

Chance Wall

Brian Kennedy

Paul Lipinski

Frank Wimple

Lauren Kerwin

Eleanor Kott

Production Staff 

Producer / Director

John Cramer

Co-Stage Manager

Kelly Goeller

Co-Stage Manager

Natasha Goeller

Scenic Designer / Master Carpenter

Derek Castor

Sound Designer

David Robins

Lighting Designer

Scott Fudali

Costume Designer

Laura Hughes

Properties Designer

Shawn Spellman

Assistant Costume Designer

Sharon Sohner

Music Consultant

Shannon Messplay

Strike Coordinators – Scene Shop

Jeff and Jennifer Smerz

Strike Coordinator – Props

Jim Mallmann

‘House Without a Christmas Tree’ delivers modern-day
message of redemption

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
Dec. 7, 2017

WAUKESHA - Waukesha Civic Theatre’s Christmas offerings for many years were different versions of their “Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols,” a lovely mix of skits and songs. Last year’s “For Purely Elfish Reasons” and this year’s “The House Without a Christmas Tree” indicate a desire to change the menu.

This year’s production, adapted by Waukesha Civic’s Doug Jarecki and directed by John Cramer, has a worthy message, stressing the importance of love in our gift-giving. In some ways it is akin to a modern-day “Christmas Carol,” though in this one, a child, not Marley, is delivering the message.

The testy, forlorn James Mills is well-portrayed by Rick Richter, and his mother Sarah (Denise Meagher), though she didn’t look old enough to play the part, acted very believably as an honest and loving mother and grandmother. Addie, the daughter rejected by her father ever since James lost his young wife when she gave birth to Addie, is lovable and spirited. Her generosity and strength carry the central meaning of the story. Julia Rady, who sometimes speaks a bit too fast, conveys the essence of Addie’s character very well. Carla Mae Marcus, her friend from Omaha, (Katherine Rogers) also does a good job as do the children who played Billy and Stewart (Kieran Plautz and Sahil Gupta), though Sahil could speak a bit more clearly.

The principal, Eugene Wilson, (Michael Stickney), could ratchet down his “dorkiness” a bit. His secretary Sandy (Dana Brzezinski) provided a zesty counter punch, though. She certainly was not as clueless as her boss. It is hard to imagine that he would have been a good match for the smart, attractive Miss Peggy (Alyx Minor), who is dearly loved by her fifth-graders.

The original story by Gail Rock has a message to deliver, and though some of the school scenes need some tweaking, the bulk of the play touches a nerve.

Review Title

By Reviewer Name
Posted: Month 16, 2017

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While it will never become a holiday classic, “The House Without a Christmas Tree” – Waukesha Civic Theatre’s holiday offering -- is a sweet slice of Americana and a heartwarming reminder of the season of giving. Along the way there are other life lessons dispensed by a grandmother, a teacher, a shopkeeper and others.

The play was adapted for the stage by WCT’s Doug Jarecki. It is based on a 1972 TV movie starring Jason Robards and a children’s book by Gail Rock published in 1974.

Set in 1949 Clearwater, Nebraska (which had a population of 419 in 2010), the play features the Mills family – dad James (Rick Richter), his 10-year-old daughter Addie (Julia Rady) and James’ mother (Denise Meagher). We learn that Addie has no recollection of her mother, who died of pneumonia when she was quite young.

Addie is a bright girl and at an age when she would like to engage with her father, who has been taciturn since his wife’s death. Addie longs to have a Christmas tree with decorations like the other kids in her school but her father refuses, supposedly because it would remind him of his late, Yuletide-loving wife. “You have to learn in this life you can’t have everything you want,” James rails at Addie. Later on, in a moving scene, we find out the terrible burden he has carried through the years and how his mother – and Addie -- help him see beyond his grief to once again enjoy his family and the holidays.

Small-town flavor
Directed by John Cramer, the show has the feel of some of those 1940s and ’50s holiday movie classics like “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “Holiday Affair” with its one-parent household, schoolchildren scenes and charming small-town flavor.

Interspersed with scenes at the Mills home are scenes at Addie’s school, where her class is preparing for the school’s Christmas concert under the direction of Peggy Thompson (Alyx Minor), their teacher. The school’s principal, Eugene Wilson (Michael Stickney), has the hots for Thompson, but is tongue-tied whenever he finds a moment alone with her.

We also meet Frank Wimple (Paul Lipinski), the kindly general store owner, as well as some of Addie’s friends, including the boisterous, outspoken Carla Mae (Katherine Rogers).

There are sweet little subplots beyond Addie’s yearning for a happy Christmas (and a happy father), such as Addie’s classmate Billy’s (Kieran Plautz) attempts to woo Addie and the charming scene Billy has commiserating with Principal Wilson over the opposite sex. There are also the poor family and the kindnesses shown to them, as well as the kindly shopkeeper who cares about more than just the bottom line.

Spunky grandma
The acting is generally quite good, with Richter doing an outstanding job as James, especially in the heartfelt scene with his mother. While Richter does a nice job with dad Mills, his is a downer character throughout much of the show. Unlike other holiday heavies, his character is not so much despised as pitied. He’s not mean enough to be truly hated, but is merely unlikable. His transformation, however, is nicely handled and welcomed.

Rady gives Addie a no-nonsense, adult-like personality. She’s a leader and stands up for what she feels is right, even throwing punches when she has to. Her grandma is surprised to hear that she wants a Christmas tree because the other kids have one. “Since when do you give a fig what the other kids think?” asks her wise grandma, played with spunk and warmth by Meagher.

Minor has a really nice presence as the schoolteacher, giving her character a sweetness that endears her to her students and a firmness and fairness that keep control. She’s the sort of teacher we all wish we had. Stickney’s Principal Wilson is also nicely drawn; the actor gives the character just enough awkwardness to look endearing but not clownish.

The kids are all energetic – perhaps a little too much so at times -- with some unevenness in their acting abilities. Rogers gives Carla Mae a suitably obnoxious and verbally unfiltered personality, while Sahil Gupta as the youngster with a reverse Midas Touch adds some levity with his Stewart character.

Lovely voices
I think this production missed some opportunities to make some key scenes more intimate. The Mills home is a rather bare, wide open space spanning the entire stage, with no separation of living, dining and kitchen areas. A really cute scene with Addie and her grandmother frosting cookies could’ve had more impact in a cozier setting, or with the spotlight on the two. The same is true of a pivotal scene with Addie’s father, as he opens up to his mother about his loss. Perhaps the bareness was to correlate with Mr. Mills’ feeling of emptiness, or to remove remembrances of his wife, but it made for a rather dull visual.

Rady could be heard singing at a couple points throughout the show and her lovely voice enhances those scenes. Several of the girls Addie, Carla Mae, Judy (Vanessa Ruck) and Amy (Bryanna Madson) break out into a lively version of “Deck the Halls,” which also added a festive touch.

Music accompanying the scene changes reflected the story nicely including “Blue Christmas,” “All Through the Night” and the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald singing “Sleigh Ride.”

It also would have been nice to have the kids sing a few more songs. In a couple scenes, the entire class sang purposely off-key while practicing for the concert, which did offer some comic moments. But at the concluding concert, they sang beautifully, in harmony. I would have liked to have heard even more of their angelic singing.

Nonetheless, the show is perfect for the whole family, with younger viewers enjoying all the antics of the children, and grownups appreciating some of the lessons learned by Mr. Mills.

Student rate is available for children and any patron with a current student ID. Senior rate applies to all patrons 60 years or older. Military rate is available for any patron with a valid current Military ID.

For our "Pay What You Can" performances, patrons can buy tickets for that show on the day of the performance at whatever price their budget will allow.

Subscriber rate is available to any subscriber for unlimited additional tickets outside their package.

10 ticket minimum per performance required. When purchasing online, please be sure to choose the Adult ticket type. The group discount will then be applied automatically to orders of 10 or more tickets.

Educational Group Rate is only available for all educational groups and Boy and Girl Scout troops. 10 ticket minimum per performance required.

Volunteer of the Production - Some Guy

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