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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brotherly Love: Rakolta Brothers Play Herdman Boys in "Christmas Pageant"

L to R—Saskia Koenig as Imogene Herdman, Suzi Collins-Duprey as Mother, and Ben Rakolta as Ralph Herdman.
Mother fails to maintain even a bit of decorum as the Herdmans take over the pageant rehearsal.
PHOTO by Jim Kelly
In this hilarious Christmas classic, a couple struggling to put on a church Christmas pageant is faced with casting the Herdman kids, six loveable delinquent children (Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie, and Gladys) who are probably the most inventively awful kids in history. (In fact, this play was titled "The Worst Kids in the World" in Australia, New Zealand and England.)  The Herdmans collide head on with the Christmas story, but their nonconventional telling unexpectedly sheds light on the true meaning of the holiday.

In the Farmington Players production, two of the Herdman boys are played by real-life brothers Benjamin and Nathan Rakolta.   Benjamin describes his character Ralph as “tough, yet cool. I like the role of Ralph because we share few personality similarities and it is fun to act in ways that are opposite of my usual self.”  His younger brother Nathan describes his character Claude as “combative and he asks a lot of questions. He is a tough kid. What I enjoy the most is the physical funny actions of my character. They are fun. I find playing a mean character challenging because I am not mean.” Like the Herdmans, the Rakoltas have a large family, which helped the boys prepare for their roles.  Benjamin and Nathan already have a lot of stage presence from dancing on stage with the Earth Angels, a 1950s and 60s dance entertainment group.

The brothers have a lot of friends in the cast, which is a real family affair that includes other siblings and several parents acting along side their own children.  Benjamin liked the script and he was looking for a play that was not a musical.  He thinks the Barn is “a perfect place for me to have my first acting experience.”  Similarly, Nathan wanted to be in this show because “I like to be on stage and acting is something I wanted to try. I also wanted to find out how productions were made, especially behind the scenes. When I grow up, I want to be a writer and producer.”

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a funny and energetic play with a lot of heart.  Benjamin thinks audiences will connect with the story because it shows that first impressions are not always right.  As he said, “the Herdmans were judged as the worst family in the community, yet their addition created possibly the best show yet. Their donation of the ham showed that they really did care and they are not as bad as they are perceived.”   For his part, Nathan thinks that the play reinforces “the true meaning of Christmas – to be kind and to give to others.” But he also observes that “there is a lot of chaos in the show and I can relate to that because there is chaos at school, especially when kids fight in class.”  But there’s no fighting among this cast.  As Nathan said, “The cast is friendly and everyone is nice to me and each other. The director [Terie Spencer] is helpful because she tells me what to work on and helps me with my acting.”

Benjamin is an 8th grader and Nathan is a 6th grader at Warner Middle School. Both boys are members of the Forensics team. They are entering their fourth year of performing with The Earth Angels. When not on stage, Benjamin enjoys robotics, Legos, reading, bike riding, and hanging out with his friends. Nathan loves to swim, play Pokémon, read DC comics, practice his percussion instruments, and be imaginative. 

The Farmington Players production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is proudly sponsored by The Life Chest. The 12 performances run from December 2 - 18, 2016. Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by contacting the Barn box office at boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or 248-553-2955.

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