Tuesday, December 13, 2011

City Circle's Christmas Carol not to be missed

by Elizabeth Breed

Coralville - Charles’s Dickens A Christmas Carol is arguably the most famous holiday tale of all time. We all know the story. Crotchety, greed old man Ebenezer Scrooge is too tight fisted with his money to realize that wealth perhaps isn’t jangling in your pockets, but rather the love you feel from other people. It takes him a haunted vision, and three spirits to help him realize this truth. I’ll assume that I don’t need to elaborate on the tale, because this beloved story has been engrained in our hearts since we were young. When I walked into the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night, I was ready to hear the story I had heard a thousand times before, and I was ready to become immersed in the tale again. I was ready to experience the show that millions have grown to love, and with the help of City Circle Acting Company of Coralville, I was not disappointed.

The man himself, Ebenezer Scrooge, is played skillfully by veteran actor Scott Strode. Strode filled Scrooge’s shoes with grace, and he was able to handle any series of complex emotions that a role like this requires. Scrooge’s transformation was well played by Strode, and the audience could truly feel the joy felt by Scrooge at the end of the play after he has his revelation. Strode was able to bring moments of honest humor to the role, but that being said, at many times I felt it a little inappropriate to the story. Specifically, early on in his first scene in the office, I noticed the audience chuckling a few of Strode’s deliveries. While humorous, I felt that it didn’t necessarily fit the character at that stage in the play. Because of that, it made it difficult for me to invest in Scrooge’s story because there seemed to be no extreme between greedy Scrooge and reformed Scrooge. That being said, I found Strode’s performance quite enjoyable during more touching moments, particularly when Scrooge witnesses the Cratchit family prepare their Christmas dinner.

Monty Beal as Bob Cratchit and Robin McCright as Mrs. Cratchit lead their brood with as much touching humor as I’ve ever seen portrayed. Beal’s portrayal of Bob contained a level of innocence and devotion that made Bob even more likable than already presumed. McCright’s snarky Mrs. Cratchit was lovely, and her interaction with the young actors playing her children was both playful and honest. The Cratchit children, played by Ally Halverson, Logan Natvig, Conner Ammar, Isabel Jones, and Stephanie Engelhardt, had incredible stage presence and chemistry, making them reminiscent of a real family. Additionally, Katey Halverson’s portrayal of Tiny Tim was both touching and frankly, downright adorable. A particular moving moment was when Tiny Tim sings a beautiful tune, completely a capella. Halverson is able to evoke many powerful emotions for such a, excuse me for saying, tiny actor. That young lady has great things in her future.

A favorite performance of mine was that of Patrick DuLaney in the role of Jacob Marley. His entrance onstage punctuated with a thunderous wail was haunting, and the rest of his delivery of his short scene seemed to be something straight out of a horror movie. It added a level of tension that made the audience uncomfortable, but in the best way, adding desperation to Scrooge’s journey. Very well done, indeed.
The three Ghosts are played by Josh Sazon, Steve Rosse, and Richard Adams, and all three of them portray very memorable secondary roles. Sazon’s Ghost of Christmas Past is poised and eloquent, and his other role as Snarkers later in the play includes a dialogue between him and DuLaney that was an audience favorite, inciting applause for the short exchange. Rosse’s Ghost of Christmas Present walks a fine line between poignant and lighthearted. Adams’s portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past is also particularly remarkable considering the only body part you can see are his hands and one only hears him speak through loud, haunting sighs of air. Additionally, Adams’s portrayal of Young Ebenezer is quite skilled, as he is able to convey a sense of growth, as well as descent in a very short period of stage time.

The ensemble is rounded out by many stand-out performances. It’s almost as if the rest of the cast were populated with scene-stealers! Brett Myer’s Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is lively and truthful, and because of his stage presence, the audience falls in love with him immediately. Danielle Paulsen pulls double duty as Belle, the woman that Young Scrooge falls in love with, and Fred’s wife, two roles that she is able to make her own. Steve Rosse and Jean Grewe as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig are flamboyant and entertaining, and Michelle Altmaier as Dorothea, a party guest of Fred’s, completely steals the scene with her charm and humor.

Special accolades are due to the many children actors in this play. In addition to the Cratchit children, every child’s performance in this play was very endearing and very accomplished. Bailey Raso as Nellie, the young girl that Scrooge speaks to the morning after the ghosts’ visit to him, is able to hold her own against Strode’s Scrooge. Andy Stewart as the young boy version of Scrooge is empathetic and Lily O’Brien’s portrayal of Scrooge’s sister, Fan, is equally as loveable.

Particular mention should be made to the design team. The stationary, basic set was very effective, as the actors were able to use the same structure in all the scenes. Different locations were emphasized by set dressing and lighting effects, presenting a space uncluttered with large, unnecessary set pieces. The only critique I have is in regards to one particular set change. During a scene change into the Cratchit home, the Cratchit children were bringing on their own set pieces, and then exiting the stage, only to return later at their cue. It seemed awkward and could have been prevented if some of the adult actors could have brought on the pieces instead. City Circle did use the space to its full advantage, using beautiful and enhancing lighting design, as well as a fun effect of having fake snow fall onstage during one pivotal scene from Scrooge’s childhood.

All in all, the cast and crew of A Christmas Carol did a marvelous job in this holiday staple. Dicken’s story is a classic, and the City Circle production not only did it justice, but it also enhanced it in the best way possible through apt performances, and a very beautiful design. Truly a production not to be missed!

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