Robert Benchley: A Christmas Spectacle


Did you miss Robert Benchley in “The Reluctant Dragon” on Turner Classic Movies last night? Possibly. Whether or not you did, please, enjoy this bit from Love Conquers All about the Christmas shows the kids put on.

A CHRISTMAS SPECTACLE

For Use in Christmas Eve Entertainments in the Vestry

At the opening of the entertainment the Superintendent will step into the footlights, recover his balance apologetically, and say:

“Boys and girls of the Intermediate Department, parents and friends: I suppose you all know why we are here tonight. (At this point the audience will titter apprehensively). Mrs. Drury and her class of little girls have been working very hard to make this entertainment a success, and I am sure that everyone here to-night is going to have what I overheard one of my boys the other day calling `some good time.’ (Indulgent laughter from the little boys). And may I add before the curtain goes up that immediately after the entertainment we want you all to file out into the Christian Endeavor room, where there will be a Christmas tree, `with all the fixin’s,’ as the boys say.” (Shrill whistling from the little boys and immoderate applause from everyone).

There will then be a wait of twenty-five minutes, while sounds of hammering and dropping may be heard from behind the curtains. The Boys’ Club orchestra will render the “Poet and Peasant Overture” four times in succession, each time differently.

At last one side of the curtains will be drawn back; the other will catch on something and have to be released by hand; someone will whisper loudly, “Put out the lights,” following which the entire house will be plunged into darkness. Amid catcalls from the little boys, the footlights will at last go on, disclosing:

The windows in the rear of the vestry rather ineffectively concealed by a group of small fir trees on standards, one of which has already fallen over, leaving exposed a corner of the map of Palestine and the list of gold-star classes for November. In the center of the stage is a larger tree, undecorated, while at the extreme left, invisible to everyone in the audience except those sitting at the extreme right, is an imitation fireplace, leaning against the wall.

Twenty-five seconds too early little Flora Rochester will prance out from the wings, uttering the first shrill notes of a song, and will have to be grabbed by eager hands and pulled back. Twenty-four seconds later the piano will begin “The Return of the Reindeer” with a powerful accent on the first note of each bar, and Flora Rochester, Lillian McNulty, Gertrude Hamingham and Martha Wrist will swirl on, dressed in white, and advance heavily into the footlights, which will go out.

There will then be an interlude while Mr. Neff, the sexton, adjusts the connection, during which the four little girls stand undecided whether to brave it out or cry. As a compromise they giggle and are herded back into the wings by Mrs. Drury, amid applause. When the lights go on again, the applause becomes deafening, and as Mr. Neff walks triumphantly away, the little boys in the audience will whistle: “There she goes, there she goes, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes!”

“The Return of the Reindeer” will be started again and the show-girls will reappear, this time more gingerly and somewhat dispirited. They will, however, sing the following, to the music of the “Ballet Pizzicato” from “Sylvia”:

“We greet you, we greet you,
On this Christmas Eve so fine.
We greet you, we greet you.
And wish you a good time.”

They will then turn toward the tree and Flora Rochester will advance, hanging a silver star on one of the branches, meanwhile reciting a verse, the only distinguishable words of which are: “I am Faith so strong and pure —– ”

At the conclusion of her recitation, the star will fall off.

Lillian McNulty will then step forward and hang her star on a branch, reading her lines in clear tones:

“And I am Hope, a virtue great,
My gift to Christmas now I make,
That children and grown-ups may hope today
That tomorrow will be a merry Christmas Day.”

The hanging of the third star will be consummated by Gertrude Hamingham, who will get as far as “Sweet Charity I bring to place upon the tree —– ” at which point the strain will become too great and she will forget the remainder. After several frantic glances toward the wings, from which Mrs. Drury is sending out whispered messages to the effect that the next line begins, “My message bright —– ” Gertrude will disappear, crying softly.

After the morale of the cast has been in some measure restored by the pianist, who, with great presence of mind, plays a few bars of “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?” to cover up Gertrude’s exit, Martha Wrist will unleash a rope of silver tinsel from the foot of the tree, and, stringing it over the boughs as she skips around in a circle, will say, with great assurance:

“ ‘ Round and Wound the tree I go,
Through the holly and the snow
Bringing love and Christmas cheer
Through the happy year to come.”

At this point there will be a great commotion and jangling of sleigh-bells off-stage, and Mr. Creamer, rather poorly disguised as Santa Claus, will emerge from the opening in the imitation fireplace. A great popular demonstration for Mr. Creamer will follow. He will then advance to the footlights, and, rubbing his pillow and ducking his knees to denote joviality, will say thickly through his false beard:

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A lot of bad little boys and girls who aren’t going to get any Christmas presents this year? (Nervous laughter from the little boys and girls). Let me see, let me see! I have a note here from Dr. Whidden. Let’s see what it says. (Reads from a paper on which there is obviously nothing written). `If you and the young people of the Intermediate Department will come into the Christian Endeavor room, I think we may have a little surprise for you. . . ‘ Well, well, well! What do you suppose it can be? (Cries of “I know, I know!” from sophisticated ones in the audience). Maybe it is a bottle of castor-oil! (Raucous jeers from the little boys and elaborately simulated disgust on the part of the little girls.) Well, anyway, suppose we go out and see? Now if Miss Liftnagle will oblige us with a little march on the piano, we will all form in single file —– ”

At this point there will ensue a stampede toward the Christian Endeavor room, in which chairs will be broken, decorations demolished, and the protesting Mr. Creamer badly hurt.

This will bring to a close the first part of the entertainment.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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