Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a profound piece of writing with a cautionary theme that has touched many readers during the Christmas season. The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society has transformed it into a comedic romp full of mishaps and bursting with hilarity. The ridiculously long title, “Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society” belongs to a fictional acting group whose exploits are the subject of several plays by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. These are mostly plays-within-plays, and A Christmas Carol is no exception. In it, under the direction of Scott Nolte, five unique actors take to the stage with the intention of showing the audience their rendition of the tale of Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge.
Bethany Wallace, Larry Albert and Alyson S. Branner
Photo by Matthew Lawrence
Taproot Theatre is a cozy little place where a small stage serves as a canvas for dramatic paintings that surpass many of those seen at larger venues. As theatergoers take their seats, they may notice a middle-aged, eccentric woman with a bright red purse wandering around. After a few encounters with other audience members, this woman steps up onto the stage and asks for quiet. Thus begins A Christmas Carol. This woman is Mrs. Reece, an actress who peaked in the 1980s but still thinks she is a star, played by Shellie Shulkin. Next, the audience meets Thelma, the diva completely devoted to her art who plays Scrooge in the troupe’s performance and is acted by Alyson S. Branner. The two other women of the Farndale Dramatic Society are Mercedes, who has recently suffered a spinal injury, and Felicity, who is spunky and obliging. These two roles are played by Lorrie Fargo and Bethany Wallace, respectively. Finally, Larry Albert plays Gordon, the only man in the group.
This group of characters is determined to put on a worthy performance. Unfortunately, everything seems to be against them. Set pieces fall over and actors forget their lines, but, of course, the show must go on. The Taproot Theatre actors switch back and forth between their chaotic mock-performance and their frustrated “offstage” banter with ease and agility. Each of these cast members has his or her own specialty in comedy. Shulkin does a spectacular job of interacting with the audience—teasing and pleading with them. Branner remains incredibly “dramatic,” oblivious that the “play” is crashing down around her. Fargo draws the laughs from her physical comedy, and Wallace’s undaunted optimism inspires much mirth. Albert, the most natural comedian of the group, has impeccable timing that allows him to bring out laughter in all his scenes.
A fair description of this Christmas Carol is that it is essentially a cross between the amateur production inside “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a Monty Python skit. Most of the humor is simple and what some would call “corny.” The audience must not think too much about it, but rather laugh and then forget it. Once they begin to inspect and critique, they will decide it is not funny. More so than with most plays, the success of the humor in A Christmas Carol depends entirely upon the attitude of the audience. This is the perfect show to see with a group of friends in good moods, as it helps the actors greatly to have an easy-going, easy-laughing audience. In the words of Larry Albert (from an after-show discussion), “When everyone does play along, then everyone has a good time.”
Unfortunately, not every theatergoer is easily entertained, and those seeking complexity of wit or plot should look elsewhere. However, A Christmas Carol does hit the spot for anyone looking for a thoroughly jolly Christmas play. It turns everything into a farce, from its ingenious set design to its incredibly creative characters. Since most people are familiar with the original story of A Christmas Carol, the plot can deviate quite a bit without causing confusion. Please consider that this is quite a British show, so the humor may be different than what you are used to. During some moments, the audience will be bent double with laughter, while other times a whole scene may pass without so much as a chuckle. The actors do a phenomenal job of carrying this unique play, however, and their individual talents shine, contrasting effectively with one another.
Actors often “feed” off of their audience, taking in their reactions and adjusting their acting accordingly. In this play, it is incredibly difficult to maintain the required silliness if the audience sits silently. The more you give as an audience member, the more the actors will give back to you. However, beware of some audience participation if your seats are near the front, or if you are unusually good at charades! If you go with relaxed, jovial friends and an optimistic spirit, you are sure to enjoy this peppy, frivolous version of A Christmas Carol.
December 5th, 2007
The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of A Christmas Carol
Through December 29th
More info and show times: http://www.taproottheatre.org/
Taproot’s Ticket Office: 206-781-9707
Ticket office hours: Tuesday – Saturday, Noon – show time
Taproot Theatre is located at 204 N 85th Street (at the intersection of Greenwood Ave and 85th), Seattle, 98103. It is served by buses 66, 67, 68, and 242. For bus times, go to tripplanner.metrokc.gov.
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