Little Christmas on the Prairie
- By gentleguide
- On Wed 25 Oct 2017
The holidays are coming, and the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre has the first seasonal production of the year premiering next weekend. A Little House Christmas is based on various holiday stories taken from the beloved book series about a family living on the prairie, focusing on young daughter Laura and her life growing up. Family, friends, and the importance of loving each other are the saving graces in a time that was more difficult, but still full of laughter and joy.
Based on the real-life tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder, we get to meet young Laura, her sister Mary, her Ma and Pa, and “frenemy” Nellie Oleson (long before the term “frenemy” was invented!) Set over a century ago, one would think it would be difficult to relate to the youth of the day, especially compared to our modern society and all the gadgets and distractions that are a part of current life. But there’s a lot to be said for a more measured approach, where the importance of family and friends don’t have such competition.
“I think some of the initial draw of these stories is that they are set in a more simple time where life moved at a slower pace,” says director Melissa Kellar. “I think children especially will, on the surface, find these stories fascinating in how the Ingalls’ family lived without modern day conveniences such as a telephone, radio, and even electricity and indoor plumbing.”
“Beyond those differences though are connections we can all relate to: family, friendship, selflessness,, and caring for one another.”
Caroline Holmes plays Nellie Oleson, and she definitely agrees it was a different world back then. “I think what surprised me was mostly the routine of the family. Bringing in water from the stream, getting wood for the fire for heating, and having to walk a couple of miles to be able to get a doctor or get something from town. I think that these are all things that we don’t really think about every day.”
“In this time period women didn’t have very many rights, and there are moments in the play that show that. I think that most people think like ‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to be in that time! I don’t know how I could survive without a phone or proper heating!’ We just don’t really think about the world changing and what it used to be like.”
This is not the first time the DM Playhouse has explored the world of the Little House series. Almost 15 years ago they presented another play based on the books, and the current Ma Ingalls, actress Jenna Darsee, played older sister Mary in that production.
Jenna observed, “With being in a Little House production before, I do find myself looking back and reflecting on my time as Mary, however, because there is a new cast, I think it’s natural for the character to progress and become something different based on the different actors and what they bring to the show. As a fellow teacher said, it’s almost like my Mary has grown up and is now being the mom with children of her own.”
“The first Little House that I was in was based on excerpts from ‘On the Banks of Plum Creek’ and excerpts of our current production come from Little House on the Prairie (an earlier book in the series.) Because of this, I find myself unfolding a new part of the story, the girls are younger, their experiences are different, and I hope I am able to bring out those sweet qualities of Ma that so many readers have grown up to know and love.”
Jenna’s job is as a teacher, so she gets to see the effects stories like A Little House Christmas have on her young charges, and how she’s developed and grown as well. “As a grown-up I would say the meaning of the show has changed for me. With more life experiences and now with students that I’m teaching I find myself finding the messages of the story to be deeper and more sincere. As a child actor I was very focused on bringing Mary to life on stage. I think now it’s not just about bringing Ma’s character above but also sharing the sweet messages that are so interworked into these Little House stories.”
All of the cast and crew seemed to have a definitely familiarity with the Little House series, and are having a wonderful time bringing these vibrant characters to the stage. Young Caroline relishes the opportunity to play someone unlike herself in the bratty Nellie Oleson.
“I love playing parts that are almost the opposite of my own personality,” says Caroline, “because it requires more work, and give me more experience to play any character if I can play a part that is opposite of my own. I think that Nellie is pretty terrible because she’s been spoiled and gets whatever she wants. I love playing the part of Nellie because of the dramatic change of her personality during the show.”
Jenna connects well with the characters in her own way, through a fascination with the past. And being raised here in Des Moines gave her a special outlet for that interest.
“I spent a lot of time going to Living History Farms with my family, and taking part in classes there,” says Jenna. “I fell very in love with the pioneer time period. I even wore a pioneer style dress for many of my visits to the museum. My mom was very much in love with the Little House stories from her own childhood, so I grew up reading the stories with her, and watching the TV series alongside her.”
Director Melissa Kellar grew up on the stories as well, and looks forward to audiences both old and new rediscovering the Ingalls family at Christmastime.
“I own the entire book series and grew up reading them all,” explains Mellissa. “I was an avid reader and loved reading these stories from a young girls’ perspective. What really reached out to me was the overall simplicity of the time period and also the theme about what Christmas is really all about.”
“I hope that children will see how Laura and Mary struggle with the possibility of ‘no presents’ and what they come to understand about what Christmas is all about, and how they put that understanding into action. For me, it reinforced what I already believe in, that Christmas isn’t just one day a year, but it is there every day in how we treat each other.”
Treat yourself to a holiday story with a loving family, good friends, and a message of warmth and togetherness. The stories may be set in a time long-gone, but the feelings are timeless, as is A Little House Christmas.
A Little House Christmas runs on Friday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons for almost the entire month of November. Shows start at the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre at the Des Moines Playhouse on November 3rd, and run through November 26th, with tickets available in person at the Playhouse box office, by calling 515-277-6261, or online at www.DMPlayhouse.com.