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Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

An enjoyable and melancholic show unevenly tells the story of the biggest editorial ever

It’s a long, sad road to see the origin of one of the most indelible editorials in history. Photo credit: Tim Johnston

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It's no great secret that, while the holiday season may bring its share of joy and merriment, it can also be an achingly sad time of year for so many people. Somehow, a lot of holiday entertainment not only doesn't shy away from this aspect of the season, but places it front and center. It's a Wonderful Life remains the gold standard for blending this familiar feeling of sorrow and joy, but Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus certainly gives it a run for its money.

This is a simple story, heavily fictionalizing the retelling of how one of the most famous newspaper editorials in history came to be. It's 1897 in New York City, and the O'Hanlon family is suffering through some trying times in the lead-up to Christmas -- namely, father James (Edward Medina) is recently out of work, struggling to make ends meet to support his family. James' 8-year-old daughter Virginia (pint-sized newcomer Nora Francis Gawryczik) has been hearing rumors from her classmates that Santa Claus isn't real, which further adds an element of weight to the family's Christmas.

Meanwhile, Frank P. Church (Parker Dean) has spent the last year inside of a whiskey bottle. Having lost his wife and unborn child, Frank is drinking himself away, withdrawing from life bit by bit. He also happens to be a whip-smart journalist at The New York Sun, crafting incisive stories for an audience that has yet to be overtaken by radio, television, or the Internet. When Virginia, prompted by her father, writes a letter to the Sun asking if Santa's real, Church gets assigned the task to respond, and the pieces are in place for both personal and universal uplift. Along the way, the story is punctuated by avuncular narration from Edward P. Mitchell (Tom Birkeland), the editor of the Sun.

Directed by Aaron Mohs-Hale, Lakewood Playhouse's production of Yes, Virginia ... is based on an adaptation of a TV movie, and so carries with it quick-cut scenes that are made to more or less replicate the easy editing of a filmed story, with each scene followed by the lights darkening and the cast resetting the stage as we move from location to location. As such, it can be a little hard to get settled into the show's rhythm, but this is a show of a great many moving parts -- covering as much ground as Yes, Virginia ... does on an isolated set would be impossible, so commendations are to be given for the cast and crew making this as seamless as possible.

My main issue with the show is the portrayal of the very real Frank P. Church as a despondent alcoholic, when in reality he was just a curmudgeon. Still, the melancholic mood of the show carries the day, and Dean, Birkeland, and Christine Choate (as an upstart colleague of Frank's) deliver wonderful performances, among a solid ensemble. This may not displace It's a Wonderful Life for dark holiday redemption stories, but there's enough here to recommend for fans of the holidays and of the power of newspapers.

YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, Thursday, Nov. 29, and Dec. 6, "Pay What You Can" at 8 p.m., Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $20-$26, 253.588.0042,

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