The Theatricum Botanicum held its annual Winter Party and Fundraiser, the “Winter Wassail Gala,” on December 8, at the beautiful Mountain Mermaid in Topanga.
In case you’re wondering, the word Wassail comes from the Old Norse, Yes, heil, and Old English, was hál, a beverage of hot mulled cider drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing. The Medieval Christmastide English drinking ritual usually took place on the twelfth night to ensure a good apple harvest the following year.
Wendy Malick and Ed Asner were gracious and comedic hosts of the evening. Malick referred to the L.A. Times’ list of the top 100 things to do in and around Los Angeles. Number 4 on the list? “Go see a play at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum!”
“To really put that in perspective,” Malick noted, “Disneyland was number 5 on the list!” She also reminded the crowd that the Theatricum is in fact the longest-running repertory theater in all of Los Angeles.
Next, the ever-elegant Ellen Geer gave the introductions for the night’s entertainment, explaining that this year, they wanted to be more focused on the unity of cultures at wintertime, incorporating African, Jewish, and Native American cultural performances for the evening’s entertainment and educational pleasure.
Gerald Rivers, a long-time Theatricum performer, presented a history of the meaning of Kwaanza, a name derived from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits, or harvest. The week-long celebration lights a candle for each of seven principles: Umoja: Unity; Kujichagulia: Self-Determination; Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility; Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics; Nia: Purpose; Kuumba: Creativity; Imani: Faith. Rivers wrapped things up by asking everyone to declare “Harambe!” meaning “all pull together,” which everyone did with great gusto.
Dan Lauria told a wonderful Shoshone legend about a boy named Little Horse and how, through his courage and determination, he captured the rain, and thunder and lightning came to be.
Peter Alsop followed with a hilarious rendition of “‘Twas the Night Before Chanukah,” where Santa Clause sneaks down the chimney of a Jewish home, waking the flummoxed father, who discovers Santa, with a thick New York accent, came by to get some of those great latkes with “sour cream on the side” and to leave the kids some Chanukah gelt and a dreidel, “because, why not?!” Once everyone caught their breath from laughing so hard at Alsop’s side-splitting performance, Greg Hilfman struck some familiar chords on his keyboard and a chorus of traditional carols—Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Jingle Bells—declared the joys of the season.
A Passion Play featured Beau Bridges as God (with some serious reverb) in a witty rendition of The Annunciation. His daughter, Emily, played Mary as the virgin maid approached by the Angel Gabriel (Liz Eldridge) who tells her she was to be the Mother of God but didn’t mention the “great with child” part that surprised a very confused Joseph, delightfully played by Michael Nehring.
The pièce de resistance of the evening was the annual performance of St. George and the Dragon. In this slapstick version, Melora Marshall was the Eqyptian Queen (“Is there a doctor in the house?”); Lexi Pearl was the aerial dancing princess promised in marriage to Dane Oliver as St. George. As if slaying a dragon wasn’t enough, George also slayed a Turkish knight and a giant, but kept ending up dead, himself, ergo, Gerald Rivers as the increasingly tipsy witch doctor with steep prices for his services (“Fifteen pounds??!!”), who brings him back to life until…the play has to end. Max Lawrence played the fiendish Turkish Knight, Elizabeth Tobias was Little Jack, sidekick to Tom Allard who towered as the Giant Blunderbore. All came back to life for curtain calls and raucous applause.
The Wassail feast was provided by The 1909/Topanga Table, and the silent auction tempted patrons to bid on everything from dinner for two at the Inn of the 7th Ray to a wild Safari trip to Africa.
There are many ways to support the Theatricum, donations, of course, that support its extensive Classroom Enrichment Programs throughout L.A. schools and season passes tothe world class summer repertory of five plays, among many other offerings.
For information: theatricum.com.