Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Charles Dickens Writes A Christmas Carol—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR

Spirits of the Season

The adaptation of this classic Christmas story is by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director), which he also directed.  It is playing at their new space in The Vault Theater, 350 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro (parking lot in back), through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

The above title can be taken in more than one way, as Dickens meant the story to cause, not only reflection, but humor, as well as some jolly imbibing.  This is probably the most adapted of all Christmas stories and the title character has been played by numerous fine actors, the best of which was Alaister Sim in the British, 1950’s version.  Since then, Scrooge has been immortalized by, most recently, Christopher Plummer, but also by Albert Finney, in a rather good musical version, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, et. al., and voiced by Jim Backus in the animated, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (also rather good).
With this incarnation we have, in this day and age of cross-gender casting, a woman, Kymberli Colbourne (who also played Captain Ahab in their “Moby Dick”), as the rascal, Scrooge.  We also have the author, Mr. Dickens (Peter Schuyler), making an appearance, giving us examples of how he wrote this immortal tale.  The rest of the ensemble, consisting of part of his regular company (Jessi Walters, Joey Copsey, Andrew Beck, Jessica Geffen and Morgan Cox), play all the supporting characters, as well as a clock, the wind, some animals and a very animated door-knocker.

This tale should be known by one and all but, in case you are one of the few that is not familiar with it, here is contained a brief summary:  As the original story goes, when we first visit Ebenezer Scrooge (Colbourne), he has spurned some very chatty charity seekers (Cox & Geffen), his own nephew, the joyous, Fred (Andrew Beck) and even his sole clerk, the always hopeful, Bob Cratchit (Copsey).  His place in society seems locked, until a visit from his equally miserly, old partner, Jacob Marley (Copsey, again), 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 chiding, Ghost of Christmas Past (Walters), a rather tipsy, Spirit of the Present (Geffen, again) and the ominous shadow of the specter of Yet-To-Come.  The first one gives him a peek at his past as a Young Man (also, Colbourne) with his somewhat incoherent sister, Fan (Cox, again), mother of his nephew, Fred, now deceased, and a rather dotty, old Fezziwig (Beck, again), a generous employer.  And, of course, there is his true love, dear sweet, Belle (Geffen, again), who she cast him aside because of his single-minded pursuit of wealth.  This episode concludes with a dire warning, which still is relevant in today’s world, to watch out for the products of such a murky climate, as they breed Ignorance and Want and will spell doom for all if they are given free rein. 

The second spirit shows him the present, with the joy of the Cratchit family, Bob’s outspoken wife (Walters, again), their children, Peter (Beck, again), Martha (Cox, again), and the ailing, Tiny Tim (Schuyler, again), and visits the gay atmosphere of his nephew and endearing wife (Cox, again), and friends, (Walters, again) as well as the outrageous, Topper (Copsey, again),  at this very festive season of the year. 

The third visions, from a supposed time in the future, has his spoils being divided up by the “street” people (Geffen & Walters, again), and points to doom and gloom for Tiny Tim.  These messages rest heavily on the old man’s heart as 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 (although there is a glimpse in this version) after all these years and why his hatred of Fred, his nephew, who is, after all, his beloved Fan’s son (explained very satisfactorily in the Sim film version).  But, perhaps, these are stories for another time.

This is presented in a story-telling style, as Dickens often agues with his Muses (and they with him) as to various outcomes, names and dialogue within the story (being a writer myself, I can attest to these mock battles), which only endears us more to the magic of the written word.  There are some marvelous costumes created by Melissa Heller (especially the charity seekers hats, very lively and colorful) and the terrific lighting effects, designed by Jim Ricks-White, which are a bit mind-boggling and quite effective for the mood of the scenes.

Palmer has done another amazing job in adapting/directing a literary classic.  He has accomplished this extremely well in the past with “The Great Gatsby,” “The Graduate,” Bronte & Austin stories, Shakespeare, et. al. and, the aforementioned, “Moby Dick.”  Their mission, in part, is to animate in the flesh, literary classics, which they have been very successful doing.  And he also has a multi-talented company to help him accomplish this mission, one of the best being the very fine actor, Cassie Greer, who was the assistant director on this production (and is the Associate Artistic Director for the company).  She will be directing a full-scale show this March, “Death and the Maiden,” and, if it in any way matches her acting prowess, it will be quite a production!

The actors are super in this show (and I would expect nothing less from them).  Some standouts were Walters as the mouthy, Mrs. Cratchit; Copsey as the eerie Marley and fussy, Topper; Beck as the forgetful, Fezziwig; Geffen with her elfin smile and laugh, as the tipsy Spirit; and Cox as the babbling, Fan.  Schuyler was perfect as the mouthpiece for this opus and Colbourne, as the cranky, old fuss-budget, was absolutely convincing, playing the many moods of Scrooge!

And, in this day and age of troubled waters, this might be just the ticket to view the positive possibilities of what can happen if we choose to build bridges between cultures, instead of walls, and put back the constitutional phrase, “We, the people…,” into our vocabulary!  And so, may it be truly said of all, as Tiny time observed, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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