Spencer Korcz & Sean Childress in The Butterfingers Angel… Photo: Hannah Brooks

Vote for the 2024 Arts-Louisville Theatre Awards!

The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, and the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree!

By William Gibson
Directed by Barbara O’Daniel-Munger

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Wait. All rights reserved.

As commonly told, the Christmas story depicts Mary and Joseph as uncomplicated, beatific characters of singular purpose. They are often little more than plot devices, designed to give Jesus humble, grounded beginnings.

Playwright William Gibson further grounds them in the daily tribulations of ordinary life. Mary is, at first, uninterested in Joseph because 17 brothers have disabused her of any notion of the desire to have a husband or children. And Joseph is much older. For a play written in 1962, Mary is surprisingly forward-thinking in her feminist philosophy. 

A bumbling Angel convinces Mary that Joseph is a worthy partner after she is taken with the immaculate conception, a moment of magic realism that confirms that Gibson is a believer, even if he seems intent on irreverence. Evil (Lucifer?) takes the form of a Man in Gray moving through the story and influencing circumstances in troubling ways.

Gibson lets us laugh without betraying any convictions and allows some freedom of thought in our understanding of this most powerful of mythologies. Even agnostics want to believe in Christmas.

Spencer Korcz is a nimble Angel, comically awkward but dogged and earnest in every attempt to accomplish his mission. At the same time, Sean Childress is a sly menace as the Man in Gray and wickedly unrestrained as Herod, so threatened by the news of a new king that he will murder newborn babies. The scene where he deconstructs a hymn written 1700 years in the future is delightful: “Glory to the newborn…king?… Joyful all ye nations rise? That’s nothing more than rebellion!” And that IS how it was seen at that time.

Rayann Walker is a forceful Mary. individual and resolute, yielding to compassion and tolerance for Joseph and her destiny. Nate Jones is more curmudgeonly than we might expect of Joseph, yet he is asked to accept a great deal on faith alone, who can blame him? And Jones has a beard made for ecclesiastical narrative.

Rena Cherry Brown milks as much silly fun as possible as Tree, and the rest of the ensemble acquit themselves admirably in support of the main narrative. The costumes carry the most weight in the design work, a melange of modern-day dress and a pastiche of Old Testament robes crafted and assembled by Hannah Brooks. Nick Dent did the lights and John Finnegan did the simple settings.

In his curtain speech, Bunbury Artistic Director Finnegan noted that The Butterfingers Angel is the most requested reprise from the company’s past, and it is easy to see why. It is irreverent but never sacrilegious, adult in its sensibility but never profane. A tart departure from the most traditional holiday offerings we count on each December. 

Featuring William Ahlborn, Jr., Amanda Alexander, Rena Cherry Brown, Sean Childress, Ian Cobb, Nate Jones, Marshall Kaelin, Spencer Korcz, Olivia Marshall, Carol Schorr, Karole Spangler, Hannah Jones Thomas, Gordon Thomas, Rhys Thomas, & Rayann Walker.

The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, and the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree!

December 1, 2, 7, 8, 15, & 16 @ 7:30 pm
December 3, 10, & 17 @ 2:00 pm

Bunbury Theatre
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.