Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Christmas Carol Will "Bless Us, Every One"

by Sharon Falduto
photos by Jackie Jensen at ICPixx

Fenna Scherrer as Tiny Tim;
Joseph Dobrian as Ebeneezer Scrooge
Coralville - I would be awfully surprised if you didn’t already know the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is a tale so enduring that it has inspired countless retellings, from Mr. Magoo to the Muppets, and suggested the name of Donald Duck’s miserly uncle. But in case you have just arrived here from another land, I will summarize. It is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a flinthearted old man who cares more for money than people. He is visited by spirits in an effort to save his soul from eternal torment.

Director Josh Sazon’s spare set decoration served the piece well. The dim lighting and lack of opulent backdrop served to place the audience in grim Industrial Revolution-era London. Scenes changed easily with the introduction of only a few set pieces to illustrate Scrooge’s counting house, his clerk Bob Cratchit’s house, and other locales. The costumes were evocative of Victorian era England, with women in full black skirts and bonnets and the men in long coats and hats. Scrooge spends most of the play in his dressing gown with a matching night cap covering his bald pate.

Joseph Dobrian’s Scrooge was the right amount of menacing and miserly for the part, indicating his disapproval of requests for such small favors as more coal with a harsh retort. His stentorian tones well suited the delivery of Scrooge’s classic lines. He dismisses a request for charity: are there no jails? No workhouses? If people are dying, then best they get on with it and decrease the surplus population! His dour demeanor in the beginning of the show makes his transformation after the last ghostly visit even more surprising and enjoyable to watch.

Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s sole employee, is the opposite of Scrooge. He is poor in wealth but rich in family and love. Glen Schmidt played the patient family man well, stooping his tall frame to work under Scrooge’s heavy thumb but appearing to grow fuller as the patriarch of his family. The able-bodied children of the Cratchit clan, played by Veronica AbrĂ©u, Paige Harken, Anna Lindower, Samuel Nester, and Joseph Verry, well embody the humble chaos of the loving family as they uncomplainingly share a very modest Christmas feast. Rebekah Kent is the Cratchit matriarch, careworn from making do on the family’s small income but putting on a brave face for the children. The heart of the family, of course, is sickly young Tiny Tim, played by Fenna Scherrer. He stumbles across stage on his tiny crutch, but never loses his spirit. Will Tiny Tim be one of the surplus Scrooge earlier mentioned who had best get on with their dying?

the Cratchit clan

The true stars of any telling of “A Christmas Carol” are the ghosts. Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner, rises from seemingly out of nowhere and holds his tormented pose till Scrooge sees him. Kevin Burford is very creepy in the role, acting as warning bell to Scrooge for what he may become: he wears the chains in death that he forged in life. Marley’s makeup is superb—even his eyes appear red tinged, standing in stark contrast to his chalky white face and hands.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is the next to appear. Audrey Thompson-Wallace is a melancholy ballerina, taking Scrooge through a tour of his past with measured step and pointed toe. We see his lonely boyhood, portrayed by Andrew Stewart singing a lonely Christmas carol. Advance a few years and Scrooge is employed by the jovial Fezziwig, actor Jim Verry, who along with his wife as played by Sandy Goodson put on a wonderful laughter-filled Christmas party which included a nicely choreographed bit of dancing. We then see Scrooge have his heart broken by the lovely Belle, played by Linsday Vincent.

Monty as the Ghost of Christmas Present;
Dobrian as Scrooge
Monty brings a touch of broad humor and comic relief to his role as the Ghost of Christmas Present. We get to see the merriment of current celebrations, from the joy of the humble Cratchit home to the more opulent soiree given by Scrooge’s nephew Fred. The Ghost of Christmas Present’s arrival is a welcome change in tone for a play that was becoming dark and brooding. The audience enjoys the Christmas atmosphere that permeates each level of society. Scrooge’s nephew Fred, played by Jacques Spencer-Motkyo, is a convivial host at his Christmas party, showing warmth to his Uncle Scrooge even though his feelings are never reciprocated.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is quite suitably macabre, appearing as a hooded angel of death with skeletal hands. This ghost somehow appeared to be seven feet tall, and its very silence and shadow made it the most menacing of all.

The action moved along nicely as strolling narrators advanced the plot and told us what couldn’t be explained in dialogue. The choice to have the narration broken up into different voices kept the pacing lively and flowing.

The only false note the show struck was with the choice of casting Kevin Burford and Monty in drag as Scrooge’s charwoman and maid, selling off his worldly possessions to the junk man after his death. Their broad cockney accents and smeared lipstick did not well suit the tone of the rest of the piece.

This enjoyable story of the redemption of Scrooge runs at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts through December 22. Ticket information available here. The live music in the show, and the glorious sunrise formed by the lighting at the end of the one act play, will lift the humbug from your heart, and you will be hard pressed not to quote Tiny Tim as you leave the theater.

“God bless us, every one.”

No comments: