Harking back to a less antique but still gentler time is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (at Stoneham Theatre through December 23), Barbara Robinson's stage adaptation of her popular 1972 children's novel about a bullying brood of rowdies who commandeer the local Catholic church's Christmas pageant. When you hear Robinson's Herdmans excitedly described as "the worst kids in the world," you may expect guns and drugs. What you get are shoving and smoking. The shoving, in fact, is a hallmark of Chris Carcione's rambunctious, kid-friendly Stoneham staging. Kathy St. George phones in a zesty turn as the sidelined control-freak pageant director, who's laid up with her leg in traction behind a scrim disguised as a giant Christmas card. And Stacy Fischer makes a likable mom turned pageant impresario. But members of Stoneham's young company, playing both good seeds and bad, give the production a barreling amateurishness that's best suited to the carol-filled Nativity play, replete with angels in bedsheets and shepherds in bathrobes, that ends the show — mercifully, without Rockettes.
, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Terrence McNally, New Repertory Theatre, More