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Marley Looks at Old Scrooge PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 06:01

It took Charles Dickens only six weeks to write “A Christmas Carol.”

Published Dec. 17, 1843, there was no way the Victorian novelist could have predicted its amazing longevity or its effect on the celebration of the holiday itself.

South Bend Civic Theatre Christmas Carol Scrooge & MarleyIn the past 168 years, Dickens novella has never been out of print. It has been the basis for 28 movies, from silent films to Technicolor musicals, as well as for an opera, too many television versions and at least one ballet and a symphony. 

But who’s counting? The aim now, it seems, is to come up with a new angle for the very familiar story. Among the latest is one being presented through Dec. 18 by South Bend Civic Theatre: “A Christmas Carol: Scrooge & Marley.” The theatrical “hook” for this particular version is telling it through the eyes of Jacob Marley.

Even though the first words of the book are “Marley was dead,” playwright Israel Horovitz has opted to bring him back into the world of the living — at least in a ghostly form. In fact, the audience in the Warner Mainstage Auditorium is greeted first with the sight of Marley (Greg Melton) climbing out of his coffin, hollow cheeks, green complexion, bandaged head, clanking chains, echoing moans and all. Given the current fascination with zombies, vampires and werewolves, it seemed quite fitting.

In an opening that, more so than most adaptations, takes a great deal of the dialogue directly from Dickens’ text, the gangly ghost notes that what follows will play out the “Scroogey” side of the carol. He then proceeds to direct attention to the counting house of Scrooge & Marley on Christmas Eve, and the action begins.

There are no major variations in the familiar storyline, but the hardworking cast (most of the performers play two roles plus serve as members of the caroling ensemble) seemed to shift easily from one character to another, with appropriate wigs and costumes aiding the transformations. Only Marley, Scrooge (Allan W. Holody), Tiny Tim (adorable Brendan Siwik whose clear delivery happily sent “God bless us every one” to the last seat in the house) and, for some reason, Martha Cratchett (Clare Costello), had the luxury of focusing only on one role.


South Bend Civic Theatre Christmas Carol Scrooge & MarleyWhat makes this “Carol” interesting enough to hold the attention even of those who know the plot by heart are the very “special effects” that pop up (sometimes literally) throughout the two-hour production.

Spirits emerging from (and returning to) a smoking fireplace, a shift-shaping door knocker, a variety of Christmas trees, a good deal of thunder and lightening, a well-lit gravestone, flashes of fire and a Spirit of Christmas Yet To Be that is well worth the wait! (Note: Marley’s Act 2 entrance through the audience is a real shocker, especially for two with seats on the aisle.)

There are shifting groups of carolers who cover scene changes and generally pop up throughout with songs of the season. Their harmonies are good and easily listenable. The numerous and varied locations required are well delineated in David Chudzynski’s multi-level set design and the changing atmospheres are equally well defined via Mark Abram-Copenhaver’s lighting design. Credit also must go to sound designer John Jung-Zimmerman who is responsible for, among other things, Marley’s menacingly sepulchral tones.

The cast handles their respective assignments very well, with special applause to Melton and Holody who sustain their characters with intelligence and emotion; to Roy Bronkema who is a sympathetic Bob Cratchett and a very jolly Fezziwig; and to Christmas Past (Natalie Rarick) and Present (Bill Johnson), both of whom had other roles in addition to creating ghostly apparitions, although I could easily have done without Johnson’s disgusting hygienics as pawnbroker Old Joe.

Just moving a cast of 31 around the stage is incredibly daunting. Director Jewel Abram-Copenhaver rises to the challenge with seasonably entertaining results.

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL: SCROOGE & MARLEY” plays evenings Wednesdays through Saturdays with Sunday matinees to Dec. 18. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 02:40
 
Theatrical 'Strangers' Not Hitchcock PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 19:34

Warning to Alfred Hitchcock fans: Do not expect to see his thriller “Strangers on a Train” recreated in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of the play by the same name.

strangers on a train south bend civic theatreCraig Warner’s theatrical version is closer to Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel but the suspenseful twists and turns of the 1951 film have been replaced by endless monologues by the psychotic killer which, to quote another play, “do not so much rouse as stupefy,” and by plot machinations that are ridiculous to say the least and definitely unbelievable. One can only suspend disbelief for so long.

The “action” in Warner’s drama begins, as does the film, when two strangers meet on a train (ergo the title). Charles Bruno (Rob Buck) strikes up a mostly one-sided conversation with architect Guy Haines (Richard Isaacson). Guy reads his book (Plato) while Bruno pontificates about white (good) horses and black (evil) horses and the grey in-betweens which make up most of the population. It is his theory that everyone has a god and a murderer inside him and that, give proper motivation, anyone will commit a criminal act.

It is this motivation he proceeds to propose to Haines. As each has a person in his life he wishes to be rid of, they will swap murders. Since they are strangers, there will be no connection. Haines takes Bruno’s proposal as a morbid joke and laughingly agrees. The joke turns deadly when Haines’ wife is killed. From that point on, Bruno evidently abandons his theory of safety as strangers.

In several less-than-believable scenes, he appears as an uninvited guest at the architect’s wedding to Anne Faulkner (Heather Marks), later manipulating an invitation to spend the night in the couple’s home when Haines is out of town, later encouraging the young architect to build the couple’s dream home plus one for him just down the street and finally threatening to tell all if Haines does not fulfill his part of the “bargain.” When Haines finally is driven to comply — the most unbelievable act of all — his life becomes a nightmare.

Enter Arthur Gerard (Tucker Curtis), a private investigator hired by Bruno’s father (Guy’s target) who has been rehired by his doting mother, Elsie Bruno (Andrea Smiddy), to catch her husband’s killer. A most unbelievable plot twist occurs when, in true Colombo fashion, Gerard discovers the truth. The plot then reaches a really ludicrous climax in “the old railroad yard” (there’s that train again!). The finale is completely ridiculous.

strangers on a train south bend civic theatreThe urge to laugh, however, had little to do with the performances which, for the most part, were more than adequate, with special notice to Isaacson, Smiddy and Curtis. Buck is assigned the thankless task of delivering Warner’s psychological diatribes. I can only suspect that the book also hinted at the uncomfortable, too-close relationship between adult Bruno and his mother and the obsessive turn by Bruno as he stalks Haines, but it cannot make the eventual fates of each of the characters any less contrived.

Completing the cast are Jason Gresl as Frank Myers, one of Haines’ fellow architects, and Jeff Starkey as Robert Treacher, a long-time friend who urges him to follow his dream of building “a white bridge with a span like an angel’s wings.”

The multi-level set designates many locations, all well defined. The cold color scheme is in keeping with the general tone of the script. Veteran director Craig McNab keeps the pace up as much as possible but it’s difficult to make a super flyer out of a steam engine.

“STRANGERS ON A TRAIN” plays at 7:30 p.m. today and Nov. 9; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Nov. 11-12; and 3 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 13 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium of the theater at 403 N. Main Street, South Bend. For reservations and information, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 02:45
 
Chilling Drama on Goshen Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 14 October 2011 15:53

“Frozen” is the title of the three character (plus one silent prison guard) drama by Bryony Lavery which opened Friday evening in Goshen’s New World Arts theater. It also is an apt description of the atmosphere engendered by the plot which deals with a terrifying and unthinkable subject.

Frozen  New World Arts  GoshenA 10-year-old girl sets out for her grandmother’s house but never arrives. For years, her mother agonizes over the loss and is haunted by not knowing the how and why of her disappearance.

A serial killer pedophile is caught and imprisoned for life.

An American psychiatrist comes to England to complete work on her thesis: “Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?”

Inevitably their lives touch and, eventually, each finds his/her own solution.

A series of monologues in Act 1 provides the background on the crime and on the individuals involved. In Act 2 they come together in duologues.

Nancy (Leah Borden) relives the day she sent her youngest daughter Rhona off to grandmother’s house. She suffers from acute stress-related headaches. Years later she still is searching for answers and hoping Rhona is alive. Ralph (Jim Jones in a disturbingly chilling performance) relives his crimes from his prison cell and declares he has no remorse. Agnetha (Brittany Gardner-Kennel) is suffering her own loss but deals with her topic in a stoically clinical manner, determined to retain her objectivity. Eventually, however, she is the unwilling bridge between criminal and victim.

Frozen  New World Arts  Goshen“Frozen” deals with a subject — and a premise — that is difficult to absorb. Abnetha’s question as to whether Ralph’s actions were “a crime of evil or a crime of illness” has no definitive answer. Were the killings sins or symptoms? Does he deserve forgiveness? His description of a happy childhood is, like his rationale for killing, a figment of his imagination.

After years of freezing herself from any other emotional contacts, and against the psychiatrist’s orders, Nancy finally gives in to her older daughter’s insistent pleas. She confronts Rhona’s killer and forgives him. He, in turn, faces the reality of his actions after her visit.

Borden’s Nancy goes from guilt to acceptance with little sign of emotional change. Gardner-Kennel is all scientist but could use a little more authority in her lectures. Both need more severe hairstyles, at least at the beginning.

Jones, who has played the role before, is a master of twitching fingers, rolling eyes, nodding head and shaking limbs. He is both an object of revulsion and someone to be pitied. It is impossible to look away from him, like the accident you don’t want to stare at but from which you can’t look away. (Except Brian Kozlowski as the Prison Guard who also serves by standing and waiting but never says a word.)

Director Adrienne Nesbitt has opted to cover the stage and set pieces with white sheets, which individual actors eventually remove little by little as the story progresses. I assume it is to represent the melting of frozen minds and hearts. Unfortunately it more resembles taking down the wash.

“FROZEN” plays at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and Oct. 21-22 in the theater at 211 S. Main Street, Goshen (entrance from South Third Street). Tickets at the door or call 1 (800) 838-3006. For information visit www.newworldarts.org. 

Last Updated on Friday, 14 October 2011 16:02
 
Birthday Celebration Is Explosive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 11 October 2011 19:33

Four generations of African-American women come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the family matriarch in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of Cheryl L. West’s comedy/drama “Jar the Floor,” which opened Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre.


To say that several familiar topics are covered during the 2 ½ hour (plus intermission) party, which is much more confrontation than celebration, is a major understatement. Rather ask if there is one that has been left out. Knowing that the play is more than two decades old is one answer. Possibly lesbianism, sexual abuse, breast cancer and single parenthood were fresh topics in the early 1900s. Today they have been chewed over in both comedies and dramas and “Jar The Floor” offers little fresh insight.

Jar the Floor  South Bend Civic TheatreIn this production’s defense, however, the cast assembled by directors Kevin Dryer and Consuela H. Wilson, does its best to hit the high — and low — notes with convincing if repetitious aim.

The characters assembled in the suburban Chicago home of MayDee (Eula Milon) are her grandmother MaDear (Nora Batteast), who now lives with MayDee, her mother Lola (Laverne McMutuary), and her daughter Vennie (Kelly Morgan). An unexpected addition to the guest list is Raisa (Nicole Brinkmann Reeves), Vennie’s white girlfriend.

Money, men and the disinterring of old wounds are among the most frequent conversational trends as the party progresses. MaDear goes in and out of awareness waiting for the arrival of her son, who she mistakenly insists is a doctor, and for her long-dead husband to “jar the floor” to signify his other-worldly presence.

Unlike Lola, her no-holds-barred, life-of-the-party mother, MayDee rigidly controls her emotions. She is tensely awaiting the arrival of her daughter and a call that may — or may not — signal her receiving tenure.

Lola, whose continual failure to find a good man, has a casual attitude that involves drinking and dancing and grates obviously on her controlling sister. This conflict erupts periodically as the question of what to do with increasingly senile MaDear heads to the surface along with MayDee’s worry that Vennie has too many close female friends and too few boyfriends.

When the young girl arrives with Raisa, a breast cancer survivor who faces her illness by offering to display her mastectomy and shouting “Cancer” as often and as loudly as possible, Vennie’s announcement that she is not continuing her education in favor of pursuing a singing career is, as they say, the straw that blows the lid off her mother’s repressed emotions, which leads to more explosive confrontations.

The scars of all the women, physical and emotional, become apparent throughout the evening. The script, however, says little about them that has not been said frequently before. It’s effectiveness would be increased substantially by judicious cutting. Less still is more.

McMutuary commands center stage most often and her Lola is a tragic/comic figure which she interprets well — and loudly. Batteast’s volume is considerably lower but her soft asides during the family free-for-alls are well-aimed zingers that hit their mark with well-deserved laughter.

David Chudzynski’s set design includes the first floor of the home, plus an outside garden, and is an excellent example of the way in which the black box theater space can be utilized in more ways than just in the round.

“JAR THE FLOOR” plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the theater at 403 N. Main St. For reservations call 234-1112 or on line at www.sbct.org

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 20:08
 
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