The River Theater presents the story of a Macy's department store Santa who sets out to prove that Kris Kringle truly does exist in 'Miracle on 34th St.'With the current state of America's slumping economy and more people than ever laden with high credit card debt, the rush to go out and buy, buy, buy this Christmas season may be a little dampened by economic factors. Therefore the inspiration for "Miracle on 34th St.," rampant holiday commercialism, may be a little less in force this season. Nonetheless folks should go and see the play at the River Theater to get a taste of the true Christmas spirit.

Adapted from Valentine Davies' novel, the play, adeptly directed by local talent Mary Davies, is a heart warming holiday classic that is a welcome bit of whimsical escapism. Those who take the time to see the show will likely find themselves amused and touched by the sincere and simple performance.

Davies said she was trying to "bring the message of Christmas and that is what the play is really about." With adorable renditions of Christmas classics such as "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by a small children's choir between scenes and a strong commitment to the overall message of the play, she succeeds.

For those not familiar with the play or the movie (a holiday classic along the lines of "It's a Wonderful Life), the tale, set in 1949 New York City, concerns Kris Kringle, played by John Twiss. Kringle is a jolly, white-whiskered man who adamantly believes he's the real Kris Kringle despite everyone telling him he's probably mentally unbalanced. In a bit of theatrical irony, Kringle gets the job of playing Santa Claus at a Macy's store where he is confronted by his boss, Doris Walker, played by Nancy Montgomery, a recent divorcee who has little faith in the miraculous and has passed that cynicism onto her young daughter Susan, played by Erica May.

Susan doesn't believe in Santa Clause, and that's something Kringle sets out to change in addition to attempting to grant Susan's Christmas wish for a father. In the meantime, Kringle must defend his sanity with the help of attorney Fred Gayley, played by Mark O'Conner. While you may think you know the story, you will likely still be in for a few surprises as Davies has added a trio of playful elves (Rebecca Fisk, Elisha Knight and Jaysea Williams) and a strong dose of spirited humor.

In addition, audience participation is encouraged in the second act of the show, which keeps audience members involved and creates a fun atmosphere.

Twiss, who makes his acting debut, is an excellent Santa, and with a full white beard and beaming grin, one almost starts to believe he is Santa by the end of the show. Davies said he was one of a few men she had to recruit for roles as only two came out for the original auditions.

With no acting experience, Twiss said he was a little nervous about taking on the role but after a few rehearsals he said he was having so much fun he was glad he took the role. Twiss said people should see the show because it is a great holiday tale for the whole family.

"It's fun, it's Christmasy and it's just a great family-orientated show," he said. "There's a villain but he's not so bad you can't see some good in the guy."

That villain is Sawyer, the Macy's staff vocational guidance counselor played by Mark Erickson. He makes it his personal goal to put Kringle away in an insane asylum fearing that Kringle is suffering from a psychotic delusion. Erickson also puts in performances in several other roles including a postman and Mr. Bloomingdale and does a good job in each.

With an effective use of lighting, the play's simple sets come alive with the vintage clothing and believable dialogue. The play is straight forward enough for children to follow, but mature enough that most adults will find themselves smiling throughout the performance. During a Dec. 5 preview showing before the official opening, there were some opening jitters and flubbed lines but nothing that seriously detracted from an overall well-done production.

Perhaps the play's strongest attribute is its ability to lay on the holiday cheer without leaving someone feeling like they're getting an overdose of Christmas charm. While warm and fuzzy, "Miracle" is not overly trite or so sugary cute it is no longer sweet but nauseating. It's a winning ratio of humor, nostalgia and heartfelt moments that should leave audience members clapping enthusiastically at the end.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12 through Saturday, Dec. 14. There will be a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15.

Tickets are $10 for general admission and $7 for students and seniors and are available in advance at the theaters box office. Call (503) 325-7487 for box office hours.

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