Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Carol—Post 5 Theatre—NE Portland

Everyone has a Story…

This one-person rendering, of Charles Dickens’s classic, is playing at the Post 5 Theatre, 900 NE 81st St. through December 23rd.  It stars Philip J. Berns, with musical accompaniment by Christopher Beatty, and is directed by Cassandra Boice.  Check their website for further information at www.postfivetheatre.org.  There is also a dinner-theatre version at The Picnic House at 723 SW Salmon St.  For information on that, call 503-227-0705 or view their site at www.picnichousepdx.com.  Be warned, though, tickets are selling out for the dinner show.

This immortal tale has been rendered countless times in movies, TV, animated versions, on stage, and as a musical, but rarely in a one-man show.  Alaister Sim (the best), George C. Scott, Reginald Owens, Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo), Henry Winkler, Sterling Hayden, Albert Finney, Bill Murray, et. al. have all played various incarnations of the infamous Mr. Scrooge.  And now we have Mr. Berns, weighing in on his multi-faceted take on this famous, eccentric fellow.

Everyone has a story…of who they were…who they are now…and who they might become.  Scrooge has the enviable task of being able to go back and relive highlights of his life in a brief span of time and then makes changes accordingly.  Make no doubt about it, he is a mean, miserly, spoiled, spiteful old man who needs a good spanking rather than a second chance.  But this is not a tale of revenge and punishment but of forgiveness and redemption.  It is, by all accounts, a true Christmas story, about the birth of Hope.  Not unlike the original, true story, of 2,000 years ago, or even the old myth of Pandora’s Box, where she released all the evils unto the earth but managed to keep Hope contained.

When we first visit Scrooge he has spurned some charity seekers, his own nephew and even his sole clerk, Cratchit.  His place in society is locked, until a visit from old partner, Marley, now a ghost, who warns him of dire consequences in the afterlife if he doesn’t change his ways.  He then is visited by three spirits.  The first one gives him a peek at his past with his loving sister, Fan, now deceased, and old Fezziwig, a generous employer.  And, of course, his true love, dear Belle, who he cast aside for the pursuit of wealth.

The second spirit shows him the present, with the joy of the Cratchit family and the gayness of his nephew and kin, at this festive season of the year.  The third, from a time yet-to-come, points to doom and gloom for Tiny Tim, the youngest of Bob’s children, and Scrooge’s own forgotten demise.  He vows then to keep Christmas in his heart all year round and make use of his wealth for the good of others.  Of course, one wonders what has happened to Belle after all these years and why his hatred of Fred, his nephew, who is, after all, his beloved Fan’s son. 
But, perhaps, these are stories for another time.

Why this show works so well (and it does) is not only because of the brilliance of the performer, Berns, but of the simplicity of the production.  It reintroduces us to the marvelous, descriptive writing of Dickens himself.  Other productions may contain much of his dialogue but it is in the narrative parts of Dickens writing that much of the power of his creative style lies.  And when you gussy it up with pounds of elaborate sets and lathers of special effects, the beauty of the language and simplicity of the story tends to get lost.

Another important point, this is presented in a story-telling style.  It is not unlike the aging grandparent, sitting on the bed with their grandchildren and reading a bedtime story from a fairy tale.  They play all the characters, doing various voices, and the kids conjure up in their imagination all the trimmings necessary for the tale to work for them.  A person’s imagination (especially a child’s) can create a beauty (or horror) greater than any special effect a person can on film or video game.  An advice to parents, give your child the gift of a bedtime story this Holiday, as it is a gift that will truly keep on giving, and multiplying.

This production did that for me.  Philip’s command of his characters, and the simple way that they are presented, gives a natural flow to the story.  And the language of the narrative conjures up many visions that danced in my head.  Especially poignant was the brief scene with his sister, Fan; the fun and lightness of both the scenes with Fred and Cratchit’s families, all quite contagious; and the hilarity of the three businessmen, talking of going to Scrooge’s funeral, was a comic gem.  These were my favorites but there were many more to keep one entertained.

Berns has been in most of the shows I’ve seen a Post 5 and he always shines, whether it’s in a small or leading role.  This is simply the crown on his head of a remarkable series of portrayals.  It ranks up there along side of Tobias Andersen’s one-man show, The Illustrated Bradbury.  And Boice’s direction gives him plenty of movement, to keep the story flowing forward and has a keen eye on honing the characters and making the most of the narratives.  And Beatty gives a fine showing, as the man of many subtle effects that enhance the show.

I recommend this show, especially for Berns’s inexhaustible performance.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.  And check on their website for the schedule for the upcoming season.