Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol (Israel Horovitz adaptation)
The Point Theatre, Ingram, Texas (dir. Kyle Andrews)

Well, this was most different. And most charming!

Over the past ten years The Point Theatre (Elizabeth Huth Coates Indoor Theatre) has put on A Christmas Carol several times. Most often this has been Dan Groat's fascinating personal adaptation and one-man show in which he plays 35+ characters from Tiny Tim to both Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley. That show is hard to match.

But no full-scale production tries. It's a different animal. And so, just a scant few years ago (2002 actually) Holly Riedel mounted just such an event. Now, i'm not going to wax about that production because a certain old codger i know was in it, however, it got great press, and was a very tight production. Certain elements of it linger in my mind long after -- especially the performance of George Stieren as Scrooge, and a range of extremely talented youngsters, many now off at college pursuing acting as a vocation.

And so, with friends Chris Snell and Travis Haring, we went to tonight's production featuring the return of one of The Point's original incarnations of Marley (Horovitz's adaptation relies on Marley almost as much as Scrooge) -- Andy Ritch.

It was extremely well directed, acted and produced. And before i go any further, let me say that, although it just opened Thursday, it sold out this weekend, and only runs through next Saturday. That means i'm urging you, if the Christmas Spirit is something you attend to, to get your reservations in now.

Let's look at the show.

First, a word about the atmosphere. The last full production viewed the piece as a drama -- there were laughs, but they were based entirely on character. No effort was made to create laughs by stretching a character. Tonight's production though looked at the whole as a comedy -- not as in a cartoon, but as a way of seeing the folly of miserliness, and as a way of keeping the mood light as we smugly watched the travails of the beset upon Scrooge. It was everything but over the top at times.

For that reason alone this show seemed to be an entirely different beast than the last. And for that reason, i can't say one was better than the other, or that either was my favorite. They both excelled at what they did.

Andy Ritch as Marley was superb. I particularly like his vocally inflective style and the way it edged toward the top without ever going over. Add to that his mannerisms and you have a fully-blown enchanting character. I believe it was this that was key in keeping the kids in the audience rapt the entire evening.

Jim Boman is new to Kerrville, and while i have already heard folks speak of him, his performance here as Scrooge was my first chance to see him. He too was excellent. His crotchetiness gave way grudgingly at first, but after his first visit with a ghost by his side it was easy to see him soften and begin the slide into the giddiness that would possess him by the final act.

Karl Bajoris, whom i first met in The Diviners and have since watched grow part by part, was note perfect as the Ghost of Christmas Past. He is majestic and bit pranksterish all at once. The designer of his hair should get an award.

Phil Kuhlmann is one of my favorite young actors -- here he plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, Old Joe and some assorted others. He has just the right facial expressions to make me crack up whenever he comes on stage, and his Old Joe did just that before he'd ever said a word. I for one am glad he expanded himself from techie.

Joe Homer does a fine job of inhabiting a wide range of characters in the play, but his Ghost of Christmas Future is so adroitly solemn that i didn't realize until afterward that it was the same person as played Old Fezziwig.

Brian Bondy i met a year ago in another capacity and i was surprised to find him onstage tonight. I'd had no idea he was an actor. He was Bob Cratchit and carried the part very, very well, including executing some difficult pratfalls. He is sincerely believable as the harried employee of Scrooge and as the warm patriarch of a desperately struggling family.

The three scavenger women are always a highlight of this piece -- they sometimes are the sole levity of the show in their scene with Old Joe -- and tonight was no exception. Joan Bryson was excellent, and the other two were as well. I'm having trouble sorting out who was who by the program and can only acknowledge Anna Weidhaft as one of them. Nevertheless, quite a riot.

I expected to see Emily Houghton as Fred's wife tonight, but i suppose she was somehow indisposed as the part was played by Stage Manager Sarah Tacey. Of course Sarah is a dynamite actress and was as sweet and charming and dismissive as the character calls for. Couple her with Charles Bryant as Fred the nephew and you have another perfect pairing. Charles is another fairly new youngster who has a substantial career ahead. The playhouse is at its most quiet when he trods onstage; he is that mesmerizing. And here, he takes what can be a rather dry character and breathes enormous vivacity into him. He and stunning Sarah simply raise the level of everything happening around them.

Among the various youngsters playing a wide range of roles, several of them playing multiple parts, there was not a single poor performance. There were some exceptional ones though -- the girls who trailed the Ghosts, the girls who always had a scream ready, were always catching us way off guard. Martha and Faith Danielson, and Emily Hensley stick out in my mind, as does Hannah Taylor as Martha Cratchit. And then there's Jeff Widener and Shelby Mossman as young Scrooge and his fiance in a truly heart-rending scene. Ethan Muhlstein as young Scrooge eloquently stole his scene; that boy has some chops. Alas, i fear that to go farther would denigrate the work of a fine cast of young players, and there is no way any of them should no be recognized for their work. Special congrats to them, and i apologize for not being able to single out all.

The set was very functional and attractive and the props time-appropriate and used continuously (all too often props just collect dust). The lighting plot was especially well-designed -- kudos to new Tech Director Dion Denevan. And Josh O'Brien's music set just the right tone throughout. Whoever's choice it was to play music as background through much of the play should also be commended. It's not a common device and has the potential to be highly distracting -- but, coupled with an excellent choice of music and just the right volume level, tonight it was a significant addition.

Finally, i'd just make a couple of notes -- critics will be critics. I was seated in the fourth row, close considering, and yet i almost completely lost the scenes that were played near to the floor -- an early scene with Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past, some of the scavenger's scene, etc. Secondly, there were some set changes that got in the way of the action on the stage -- those may have been timing errors only, but were still most obtrusive. And finally, and i know how hard this can be, but some of the younger kids need to learn not to break the wall, even while simply helping with set changes. That too occasionally distracted.

Again, a wonderful show, one i highly recommend not only because it's a fine story to begin, but because this production brought it to another level. Which makes three productions at this little theatre that have done just that, IMHO. Thanks and congrats to director Kyle Andrews, his assistant Emily Houghton and everyone associated with it.