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The set of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” at the Village Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe. Courtesy photo
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‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ goes out on a powerful note

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Village Church Community Theater put on its last show of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on Dec. 15 at the Village Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe. The show was directed by Twyla Arant and dedicated to Amy Zajac, the drama ministries administrator who will be retiring in 2020.

Zajac was invited to receive a bouquet of flowers in front of the audience. “I was shocked, and I’m very grateful, because I love working here,” Zajac said. She has worked as a member of the Village Church staff since 2014 and plans to spend more time writing in retirement; she has already written a novel.

As for the production itself, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a faith-based play by Deborah Craig-Claar with music by Mark Hayes, which focuses on a family in 1941 San Francisco who collectively spend their time arguing about what to listen to on the radio, what God has in store for them, and whether or not a male member of the family in the army will be able to make it home for Christmas.

What set the play apart from usual stage fare was that it divided its attention between the plot, semi-offstage segments dedicated to re-enacting radio broadcasts of the day, and choral performances of Christmas music. Sometimes, all these elements played in tandem together, other times they were completely separate.

The re-enacted radio segments were far and away the highlight of the production. From Rick Farley emulating a typical radio announcer, to the entire audience jumping as John Chalmers fired blanks into the air during the Lone Ranger segment and Bradley Pei brushing a tree branch back and forth to create live foley sound effects, the radio segments added an old-timey charm to the show, especially with the use of retro microphones.

“In my opinion, (the radio) helps take you back to that time period,” Arant said in an interview after the show. “All of the entertainment at the time was done live at the radio station. It was frequently done live, very few recordings were used.”

The choir and the big band worked with harmonious unity, playing classics like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Many members of the choir got the opportunity to shine with their own solo and duo performances.

The actual story of the play is relatively light, with the heaviest and most serious scene revolving around patriarch Howard (Gary Tallaksen) mourning his long-deceased wife in a genuine moment of pathos. Even though the story left slim pickings drama-wise, the entire production as a whole was nothing short of a tour-de-force.

“I feel like we had four successful shows, a cooperative audience, an engaged audience and an awesome band, so a lot to be thankful for,” Arant said.

Arant also said she was most proud of her cast over trusting what they had learned and studied in preparation for their performances, such as not worrying about potential mistakes in their performances.

“I’d like to thank (The Coast News readers) for supporting theater around San Diego County and hope to see them at VCCT,” she said.