Photo: MPC's Portable Theater mounts a charming Christmas Carol.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
I''m not a big fan of improv-heavy plays in which small casts playing multiple roles, with minimal sets and costumes, beg the audience to suspend disbelief and "play along." They usually make me cringe.
But some plays lend themselves particularly well to this kind of theater. The traditional, narrative-driven adaptation of Charles Dickens'' 19th-century classic A Christmas Carol is one such animal, and the MPC Portable Theater is right not to mess with the formula. Not to say that other, more grand productions of the tale should be avoided-the large-cast, technically flamboyant version that just closed at the Western Stage got a gold star in this paper two weeks ago. New interpretations of any play, particularly the most over-performed holiday classics, are always welcome.
But A Christmas Carol still works well as a simple tale simply told. That''s how they''re playing it in MPC''s SRO/Studio Theater, using a 1972 "story theater" adaptation, and the result is a sweet little show.
The star of this production in every way is Michael Lojkovic as Ebenezer Scrooge, the grouchy, stingy, mean old London man of business who slaves away in his cold, cramped office, sniffing at joy, impervious to love, whose heart is finally opened by the nocturnal visitations of three Christmas ghosts. Lojkovic, an extremely talented local actor who doesn''t appear nearly enough anymore, captures the sadness at Scrooge''s core and shows the character struggling between a crusty exterior formed of years of disappointment and the lonely, loving man buried deep within. Oddly Irish-tinged accent notwithstanding, Lojkovic''s is a light, nuanced performance that gives the play its backbone.
Lojkovic is joined by seven other cast members who play all the parts in the tale and take the audience through the story of Scrooge''s spiritual cleansing and eventual redemption.
The set is stark, and costume changes consist largely of putting on and taking off spectacles, scarves and hats, but the stage is dominated by a huge, white, slightly opaque silk parachute worked to magical effect by the energetic cast. Out of its billowing folds emerge the three ghosts-Christmases Past, Present and Future. It stands in for Scrooge''s blankets, it allows characters to emerge and disappear without moving off-stage, and throughout the play acts almost like a silent witness to the story unfolding in front of it.
Some of the actors are stronger than others. Cliff Berry makes a wonderful, cheek-pinching Bob Cratchit, guileless and lovable, and a humorous gravedigger. Kate McEldowney is a no-nonsense Mrs. Cratchit, fiercely devoted to her family, and partners nicely with Berry in the Fezziwig Christmas party. Pat Stadille has fun as Long John Silver (peg leg and all), is nastiness itself as the Cockney pawnbroker rifling through the late Scrooge''s belongings, and as Scrooge''s dead partner Jacob Marley gives out such bone-chilling moans and groans that he nearly-but not quite-terrifies the small children in the audience.
That brings up another nice aspect of this production. While not shying away from the darkness at the story''s center, director Rami Wikdahl knows where to have her actors pull back and, with a wink or a quick aside, let the younger audience members know that, in the end, goodness will prevail. That''s what the story is all about, and that''s why this little production is such a nice treat for parents and their children, even quite young ones. The carols sung at show''s beginning and end round out a tasty holiday bonbon.
A Christmas Carol closes Sunday at MPC''s SRO/Studio Theater.