Monday, December 9, 2013

A Christmas Carol—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

“God Bless Us, Everyone!”

This Charles Dickens’ classic tale is adapted by Rick Lombardo and music by Anna Lackaff and directed by Cristi Miles.  It will be playing at this space through December 29th.  For more information, go to or call 503-488-5822.

This is the ultimate Christmas tale of redemption and good feeling.  Dickens originally wrote it for a  magazine, in the form of staves or sections/chapters, one appearing each week for nine weeks, unaware that it would become a classic.  Although other Christmas tales have become famous, like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, none have sustained like this story.  And one should not forget the reason for the season, as the first Christmas story was, of course, The Nativity, about He who would “make lame beggars walk, and blind men see (Bob Cratchit).”

The story has been filmed countless times in many incarnations.  The best of the bunch is Alaister Sim’s in a B&W, 1950’s, British version.  But some of my favorites have also been Albert Finney in a Brit musical version, Scrooge; Sterling Hayden in a Hallmark Hall of Fame, updated TV adaptation, Carol For Another Christmas; and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, as an animated-musical take on the story.  Now we can add Portland Playhouse, always presenting quality productions, in their spin on the tale.

The story should be familiar to everyone.  An aging, money-lender, Scrooge (Drew Harper), has cut himself off from family, his nephew, Fred (Michael Pfeiffer) and employee, Bob Cratchit (Jeff Painter), and leads a solitary existence.  The ghost of his long-dead partner, Marley (Jen Rowe) informs him, on Christmas Eve, of dire consequences in the hereafter if he doesn’t change his miserly ways.  His one chance is to be visited by three ghosts (Jen Rowe) that will visit him and take him on a journey to his Past, his Present, and his Future, with the hope that he will see the errors of his lifestyle.

In the Past, he sees himself as a boy (Atticus Salmon) and his close relationship with his sister, Fan (Carrie Morgan), who eventually dies in childbirth (with Fred, which is possibly why he shuns his nephew, blaming him for her death).  He also divests himself, as a Young Man (Joshua Weinstein), of his true love, Belle (Danielle Purdy), when he chooses to pursue money as his chosen passion.
In the Present, he sees the happiness in Fred and his family and friends, and with the Cratchits’, a poor but loving group, with their crippled son, Tiny Tim (Bella Freeman-Moule).  In the future, he views the Cratchits’, sans Master Tim, and how his belongings are literally ripped from his body by the some street people when he dies.  He also looks upon his own neglected grave.  These visions give pause in his ways and he vows to change them for the better.

This is certainly a family-oriented production, although the ghost sections might be a bit too intense for very, young children.  A cast of about 15 enact about 40 plus roles on an essentially bare stage, where the actors often play the set pieces, like the bed curtains and the knocker of Scrooge’s house--quite inventive.  The cast is also multi-talented, as many sing and dance and some play musical instruments.  Only recommendation I would make, is to tone down the shouting and sound/music effects a bit, as it sometimes drowns out the dialogue.

It would be hard to pick out the best, as they all were equally good in the many incarnations they portrayed.  Just to keep straight who was who and doing changes so rapidly, must have been quite a challenge.  Kudos to the director, Miles, for organizing it all so well.  It is quite an enjoyable time.

Harper, as Scrooge, is very accomplished and traditional in his portrayal of an icon of literature.  He is very precise in the many complexities this role must convey.  It would have been nice if they had tried to age him a bit, as far as make-up, but his performance was spot on.  And Rowe, as all the ghosts, including Marley, is quite a feat.  She definitely commands the stage when she is on.

I did like Pfeiffer’s jovial, Fred and Painter’s compassionate, Cratchit.  Purdy was lovely as Belle, as well as Ashley Williams as Mrs. Cratchit.  And Weinstein, in all his roles, stood out.  All the children were quite believable.  And, I must commend my contact with this theatre, Katie Watkins, who plays a mean flute.  To each and every one of them, bless you!

I recommend this show.  And be aware, be a good neighbor, and park in the lot 2 blocks North of the theatre.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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