There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
It would be hard to imagine folks less prepared to be parents than Hoke and Old Jake, differently grizzled miners who’ve more or less given up on the promise of the California Gold Rush in Norman Allen’s The Christmas Foundling. But when a fallen woman arrives on their doorstep in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, gives birth to a baby boy, and expires before so much as saying her name, they prove pretty resourceful. They find a she-goat for the baby to suckle and start charging buddies a steep 2 ounces of gold dust to dandle the infant on their knobby knees for two minutes—a college fund, explains Old Jake—while banning all cussing and talk of loose women. Before long, the “wee bairn” (Jake hails from Scotland) has grown to be a spunky little 10-year-old named Tom, and it’s time for some sort of Grinch to put in an appearance in the generous helping of holiday treacle that Journeymen Theater is serving at the H Street Playhouse. So, enter Sarah, a schoolmarmish spinster looking for the sister who fled her wealthy Boston family a decade earlier. She has a picture; the men have a locket that Tom’s dying mother left behind, and it’s soon determined that their pride and joy must also be Sarah’s nephew. At which point, a bit of caroling and miners’-song harmonies notwithstanding, the evening evolves into a politely earnest child-custody battle. JJ Area’s plainspoken Hoke and Sean McCoy’s young Tom are engaging enough to get a little father-son feeling going, but Becky Peters doesn’t make the presumptuous Sarah (“two men cannot raise a child”) much more than a pill, and the rest of the cast, though energetic as can be, is hamstrung by the Boston, Moscow, and Georgia accents their characters assay. Inspired by stories written by Bret Harte in the late 1800s, the evening means to be all sorts of perfectly admirable things—a plug for the virtues of literacy, a condemnation of Civil War–era prejudice, a plea for civilized compromise—but Allen’s script is only workmanlike when it tries to conjure the grace of a mountain aerie where “heaven’s come down to earth.” And it’s helped not quite enough by Gregg Henry’s staging, which, curiously, seems to want to push the struggle between East Coast gentility and High Sierra freedom as far to the rear of the stage as possible.