Three years after brothers Buck and Timothy Busfield moved the classic cars out of an old garage along the railroad tracks, converted the building into a playhouse and founded B Street Theatre, Buck Busfield figured it was time for the company to present its first holiday play.
“‘Christmas Carol’ was too big, and we didn’t want to do ‘Child’s Christmas in Wales,’ and there was nothing else out there,” he recounted in a blog post earlier this year. So in 1994, Buck Busfield wrote an original play titled “Holiday Tales from Around the World,” and a tradition was born.
Over the next two decades, Buck Busfield and others – though mainly Busfield – would write and B Street would produce 19 original holiday shows. The 20th, B Street’s current holiday production, “A Moving Day,” is a tasty hour-long morsel directed by Busfield and co-written by Dave Pierini and Busfield.
It also is the company’s final production on B Street. The theater company is moving to The Sofia, a new two-playhouse complex at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue that is scheduled to open in February.
In that regard, “A Moving Day” is a fitting adieu to B Street’s current home. The cast comprises several B Street regulars and a young actor from New Jersey making his B Street debut, and all rise to the challenge of ushering the company off of B Street with a memorable artistic statement.
The play is a classic B Street production, one that contains plenty of physical comedy and laughs, but also offers a poignant story line about the emotional strain people feel when moving out of a home (or a theater), leaving behind a full range of memories.
Buoyed by a strong script and Busfield’s direction and staging, the actors shift gears seamlessly from zany antics to angry arguments to moving monologues.
“A Moving Day” tells the story of two moving men, Frank and Casey, who are sent to a house in Cleveland on Christmas Eve to clear out all the boxes and furniture. The bank has foreclosed on the property, and the house is supposed to be vacant.
Frank, played by B Street veteran Kurt Johnson, advises his young assistant Casey, played by visiting actor Tim Liu, to just get the work done quickly and get out. But there is a hitch. Frank and Casey find a person hiding in a large box, the manipulative Patrick Ignatius (played delightfully by Greg Alexander), who says he cannot leave until he finds a long-lost necklace with great sentimental value.
Liu and Johnson’s comic timing is precise and impressive throughout. Casey describes his failed love life in painfully funny detail, and Frank offers him relationship advice. “Do you find me unattractive? Am I a nice guy?” Casey asks his coworker. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“You come off a little needy,” Frank responds.
“I’m not needy!” Casey fires back. “I’m thoughtful!”
Meanwhile, Frank is juggling repeated cellphone calls from “Mama Bear,” a.k.a. his wife Karen, during which she drops the bombshell that she wants to separate.
Amid the frenetic action and sharp dialogue, Mama Bear pays a surprise visit to the house. Jamie Jones is hilarious as the woman whom Frank paints as a monster but turns out to be the walking, talking personification of Christmas spirit and sweetness.
Thanks to costume designer Paulette Sand-Gilbert’s spirited style, Karen explodes onto the stage in green pants, a red coat and a candy cane headband; she carries a red plaid handbag decorated with Christmas trees. Jones complements that look with a spot-on Minnesota accent that gives Frances McDormand’s character in “Fargo” a run for her money.
Meanwhile, set designer Samantha Reno has incorporated an inventive twist into the stage. Some of the flooring and wall panels are designed to be removable, allowing Patrick to literally tear up the house in search of the missing necklace.
Like many of B Street’s holiday shows, the story line for “A Moving Day” has only a tenuous connection to the holidays. In this case, that’s a good thing, avoiding the triteness and forced emotions of so many holiday productions.
What is missing from this play is more Frank and Casey, more Mama Bear and – well – more play. At only one hour – beginning to end with no intermission – this one-act dramedy feels like it’s over in a flash. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable, engaging experience.
To be fair, Pierini and Busfield, pressed by the business of moving B Street to midtown, had only about a month to write “A Moving Day.” Busfield has said he plans continue this holiday tradition at The Sofia: “Oh yeah, as long as the audience wants it, we’ll do it,” he said.
A Moving Day
What: B Street Theatre’s annual holiday show – its 20th – and the final production for the B Street playhouse as the company moves to a new midtown location next year. Written by Dave Pierini and Buck Busfield and directed by Busfield.
Where: B Street Theatre, Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 24.
Cost: $27-$39, $9 student rush tickets.
Information: 916-443-5300 or bstreetstheatre.org
Running time: About one hour, with no intermission