When Ebenezer Scrooge (played with crabby directness by Bob Thom) tucks himself into bed on Christmas Eve, he happens to be standing on stage.
The illusion is so complete and so comical that on opening weekend, it triggered hearty audience laughter. The illusion, one of many theatrical surprises, is part of a fresh, inventive, and thoroughly delightful reimagining of the famous Charles Dickens story mounted by Merely Players and 20MOONS.
Last weekend, the audience got all the stage tricks beginning with six ethereal, white-laced dancers who appear as a ghost-like Greek chorus. The dancers silently react to the emotional content of the story as well as provide key props. At bedtime, they help Scrooge with an onstage costume change then hold up his pillow, comforter, canopied curtains and give him a cup of tea.
Mona Wood-Patterson and Anne Bartlett, directors of the two performing groups, have collaborated on a truly charming interpretation of the story. Having seen many versions, including the bloated, big-budget musical now at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, I can easily say this sophisticated local production compares very well. If you don’t have tickets, get them now.
Designer Charles Ford has mounted a city-scape of scaffolding on the expansive Fort Lewis College Mainstage. The scaffolding defines spaces for the musicians and actors, who magically change costumes, assemble props and emerge onto center stage via a fog machine.
On the upper level, Jeroen van Tyn’s small, but smart, orchestra visually crowns the setting and underscores the action with telling counterpoint throughout. Van Tyn’s violin, Jon Bailey’s percussion and electronic components contrast minimalist New Music strains with Vivaldian joy. Everything is integrated, including original music, into this drama of redemption.
JoAnn Nevils’ beautiful period costumes and light designer Monique Cuyler’s complex effects enhance the look and feel of Scrooge’s night of visitations.
Director Wood-Patterson’s script adaptation is intelligently concise. She employs the author’s exact words and knows when to let a key scene quietly resonate. For example, when the young Scrooge (the wonderful Geoff Johnson) chooses to pursue wealth over happiness, time and music seem to stop – underscoring a key turning point.
Only Thom plays one character. Everyone else in this large cast must change costumes and affect different vocal styles and body languages. With stalwarts like Johnson and Jack Meigs, who each convincingly play five characters, the company is in good hands. Deborah Heath, Mohriah James and Ethan Craig play six characters each. Riki Tsethlikai and Tilly Leeder bring warmth to their important supporting roles. Be prepared to be astonished at the youngest members of the cast, Bia Costa and Dashel McAlvany, in their respective performances as Tiny Tim.
Ford’s puppetry skills are put to good use in several ways: a horrifying ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future.
The holiday classic runs without intermission and may just be the most concise and creative interpretation you’ve ever seen.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.