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A Must-see The Christmas Foundling From SRT

Like a Currier & Ives greeting card of the Sierra Nevada Gold Rush days come to life The Christmas Foundling has arrived for the holidays at Fallon House Theatre in Columbia.

Commissioned by Sierra Repertory Theatre (SRT) from Washington, DC-Area playwright Norman Allen back in 2000, the work, inspired by the stories of Bret Harte, debuted here in 2001. Produced by a smattering of theatre companies across the country, including again by SRT in 2003 and 2008, this latest local revival seems a bit overdue to those (like me) who are new to its charms.

My guess is that this altogether charming work shines brightest here in the Mother Lode where the setting is literally at the heart of the tale and various characters’ frequent references to the nearby “city” of Columbia and other local landmarks are as palpable as they are entertaining.

Certainly, those of us who love where we live and can appreciate a whimsical and heartfelt Christmas Eve story of the Gold Rush period will consider it a must-see from SRT. Set in and around a foothills cabin, the tale plucks and plays at the heartstrings — sometimes literally when members of the seven-member cast break into wistful ballads, folk reels, and holiday carols.

Despite the fact that all but one of the characters are male, the play’s characters have quite a bit in common with Little Women author Louisa May Alcott’s stories around the same time frame: each, while distinctly different and imperfect they are endearingly likable, diligent, and devoted to the others in their family of origin and/or choice.

 

A Miners’ Christmas Tale?

The story begins as two miners partnering a stake prepare to settle into their cabin for a quiet Christmas Eve, or so thinks Hoke, the quieter of the two. Old Jake, a Scotsman hailing from Aberdeen, not only insists on filling the night with carols, he drops that he has invited Boston, Moscow and Georgia, three neighbors from nearby claims, to forego the festivities in Columbia and join them instead. Already brimming with “Christmas cheer” when they come stumbling up the hill to the cabin, they are in no mood to sing with Old Jake and soon depart to partake in more of “the City’s charms.”

In the frigid dark night, the light inside the cabin light draws a mysterious cloaked caller, whose collapse at the door startles Hoke and Old Jake. Their unlikely visitor turns out to be a dying woman clearly ready to give birth. The two somehow summon between themselves the wherewithal to deliver the orphan baby into the world; literally to them it is a Christmas miracle.

In the hours and days that follow the two men figure out a plan to care for the infant who Hoke names Tom, and their friends subsequently fall into line as part of a support system that is as sweet as it is entertaining to watch. But as a decade’s worth of Christmas Eves pass, a well-heeled woman in search of a long-lost sister arrives in Columbia, leading to a discovery that while her beloved sibling is no more, she may have a nephew and family heir to bring home to Boston.

The cast, a true pleasure to watch, includes SRT regular Gary Holman as steadfast Hoke, a role that he originated back in 2001. Ty Smith, another SRT mainstay with nearly 90 appearances under his belt including a notable Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, plays the wonderfully wise and not quite wizened Old Jake.

Courtney Glass, a formerly Sacramento-based actor who now calls Sonora home and who has shone in many recent SRT shows including Shrek and Murder on the Orient Express, is captivating as Sarah. Drew Boudreau (Moscow), Matt Alpert (Georgia), and Gabriel Rodriques (Boston) have all worked with SRT before and each brings color and depth to their likable characters. Eleven-year-old Sonora Elementary student Asher Berg, who made a splash as Flounder in SRT’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid this past summer, turns in a fine performance as young Tom.

Directed by SRT Producing Director Scott Viets, The Christmas Foundling plays at The Fallon House Theatre in Columbia through Dec. 18. As reported here (https://www.mymotherlode.com/community/blogs/srts-elf-the-musical-decks-the-holidays ), Elf The Musical is playing in tandem at SRT’s East Sonora Theatre. Get more details on both, including matinee and evening performance times and tickets at: https://www.sierrarep.org/

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