MARCO ISLAND — Much like West Side Story, theres a rumble going on in Bethlehem.
Instead of the Sharks and Jets, it's the shepherds and townies. And Maria doesn't bring the two groups together by pointing out the futility of street violence. It's Mary, who solves all the town's ills, and mankind's, by bringing into the world the Prince of Peace.
"The Bethlehem Project" is a play full of raucous joy. Its theme is simple: We all want to point out differences, but at heart were all the same. We want to belong and not be demeaned.
The play gives a child-like interpretation to Holy Scripture. Things are not exactly like they were 2,000 years ago, but the spirit of the message is the same in a modern, funky way.
The innkeeper, Sol (Brett Anderson), is slightly hard of hearing and the quintessential Jewish innkeeper with his wife, Yetta (Alexandria Anderson), and young son. Mary (Jessica Lang) and her donkey (McKenna Broxson) join the broom dance with townsfolk as they sweep out the stable and prepare it for a child's birth.
Although the Christmas carols are traditional, the 25 member cast – all youngsters – gives each song a modern beat with a few "Sha bop, sha bops" and a little "Shake, rattle and roll."
Elizabeth (Karly Hassell) is the youngest townie and one of the brightest stars in the play. Some unknown malady has rendered her dispirited and not willing to talk, but her body language is always doing the job for her.
When the shepherd Jessie (Clare Hassell) convinces Elizabeth the baby born in the stable is the Messiah, she cannot contain herself any longer. Words join her actions and she can't stop talking until the end of the play.
It's that moment that enlightens the others to what has happened in their corner of the world. It's also Jessie's and Elizabeth's friendship that proves to the brawling groups there is nothing to fear by getting along.
Not to be missed, the risers are filled with baby angels whose sweet voices sing, "Jesus Loves Me." Other favorites, such as "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard on High," are performed with high energy and lots of beat.
During dress rehearsal on Sunday, one of the actors asked the director (Pattie Ziesig) where Bethlehem was located. In true teacher fashion, she told the players their homework assignment was to go home and find it on a map.
A map might be helpful to find the historic Bethlehem, but the spirit of the town was onstage during "The Bethlehem Project" at the Rose History Auditorium.
"The Bethlehem Project" was written by Barny and Carter Robertson and is a production of The Island Theater Company.
Through generous donation from sponsors, all performances are free to the public and tickets are not required. There will be a special collection before each performance for needy families in the community.
Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 6, and Friday, Dec. 7. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, and Sunday, Dec. 9.
All performances will be held at the Rose History Auditorium, 180 South Heathwood Drive. For more information call (239) 394-0080.