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Who would think a show this dark in palette, infused with themes of separation and built with mature wit, would so appeal to an audience of surprisingly young children that they would sit stock-still, laughing at all the right moments, apparently entranced by this 35-minute production? The smart money is on the kids, or the savvy parents who guessed this show would hit the spot on a chilly afternoon, or the show's creators: writer José Cruz González and director Mark Valdez.

Young Marisol (a sweet Alejandra Navarro), her Mami (warmhearted Adrianne Avey), and Papi (the lively Israel Juarbe) are traveling on foot to Los Angeles. (We presume they've not checked in with the INS, but this being the Christmas season one feels Grinch-like raising the point.) Mami becomes separated from her family while the trio tries crossing a freeway. Marisol and Papi befriend a homeless woman (sassy Christine Avila), who offers a seat around her small fire under the freeway overpass. To comfort Marisol, Papi tells a story using discarded items they find nearby—and their imaginations. Joined in the storytelling by the homeless woman—who plays planet Earth, a movie star, and a floating beach ball—Papi plays Gravity and baseball's Sammy Sosa, while the image of Mami appears as a comet come down to Earth. In an easily understood bilingual format (occasional phrases in Spanish, repeated in English, and vice versa), we see a tribute to spirituality and to existentialism. "Have faith," says Papi mid-story, "but work hard and make it happen."

Yes, Mami finds them, and by the story's end everyone has arrived wherever he or she belongs: the comet in the sky, the ball on a Hawaiian beach, and Marisol and her family in Los Angeles. (Papi says they've crossed mountains and deserts to get to Los Angeles, therefore they deserve to live here. Try explaining that one to the kids—or each other—on the drive home.)

The set, by Joe Ferrulli, consisting simply of drop cloths but painted to resemble the Hollywood hills and a roadway, further becomes a magical night sky under lighting by Nick McCord. But best about the production are the dignity with which the characters treat one another and the fullness with which the actors breathe life into their characters. Papi is fun but also smart, Mami is brave, and their daughter seems to be learning from them. And that's worth watching, at any age.

"Marisol's Christmas," presented by and at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. Sat. 3 p.m., Sun. 1 & 3 p.m. Nov. 17-Dec. 30. $10. (818) 955-8101.

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