Roasting Marshmallows

A word of warning to theater lovers: The Hallmark season is upon us. And Buber Malone, offered by The Little Room Downstairs Theater, is simply the first of what promises to be many money-grubbing, family-friendly (read: insipid) shows about the goodness of humanity. That said, Richard Laub's script is certainly better than many of the Christmas Carol rip-offs that have floated around during Decembers past. This marshmallow of a story focuses on a bitter old woman who chooses to spend Christmas Eve alone, until she's visited by a ghost who teaches her to love life.

Tamara Bertram (Natalie Maisel) is a crotchety widow who refuses to visit her doting son, preferring instead to bask in the darkness of her big lonely house and her own self-pity. Late one Christmas night, out of her dreams steps Buber Malone (Laub), the love of her early years. With a magical potion, he spins her back in time -- to when she was young, beautiful and deliciously wild, to when life was rich with possibility.

It's 1944 in Galveston, Texas. Buber is a British pilot about to head off to war. Tamara, on the other hand, has just fled from the suffocating tutelage of her spinster Catholic aunt, who believes that "love is a foolish disease." Tamara and Buber meet, fall in love, fall in bed, and her life is changed forever over the course of a single night.

What follows is a series of completely predictable life lessons, which culminate in an aw-shucks ending. But Maisel's Tamara is full of fiery, winsome charm (in spite of an unfortunate costume provided by designer Katherine Neumeyer). And Laub's Buber carries himself with all the dreamy-eyed mystical wisdom that ghostly hindsight should provide, though his peculiar British accent is very distracting. Marcy Bannor and Laub have co-directed the quick-paced show with minimal props and sets.

The production would undoubtedly be stronger if there were any erotic chemistry between Maisel and Laub; this is a love story after all. But it's the season to be sugary, and in a Hallmark world, lust is not allowed.

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Lee Williams