Friday, December 14, 2012

A pair of Christmas grumps take to the stage

Many of the actors are cast in several roles, which leads to some confusion. Violet Webster plays both the role of young Scrooge's fiancee Belle and, later, Mrs. Cratchit, which gives the appearance that Belle married Scrooge's clerk Bob Cratchit. This gives an unintended, albeit amusing, subtext to the proceedings.

Some of the children, though, are quite good with Sophia Gemmiti as Marley's ghost and Snowden O'Neill as Bob Cratchit as standouts. O'Neill has a great facial expression of utter confusion when Scrooge reveals his change of heart in the concluding scenes.

Robirds, a first-time actor, gets off to a rough start, but grows into the role. He's better at portraying the joyful Scrooge at the end of the story than the gruff curmudgeon of the beginning.

In addition to both being about a grump who learns the true meaning of Christmas, the biggest thing these two production have in common is narration. Narration can be a useful tool in getting information across in a play or a film, but it can also can be detrimental to the storytelling if relied on too heavily.

Clemons adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" commits one of the biggest sins of theater and film: It tells rather than shows. It feels as if half or more of this reworking of Scrooge's visitation by three ghosts is told through narration. Often Dickens' language, read by an unseen narrator, is used to describe events that aren't even happening on stage. The narration often comes across as stage directions that no one is following.

In contrast, the narration in M&D's "Who Stole Christmas?" is used sparingly and there is always a direct correlation between what is being spoken and what is happening on stage. The narrator (Cynthia Johnson) remains on stage throughout the show and at one point is even directly addressed by the Grinch (Stacy Sand).

Sand makes a fantastically gruff Grinch and is clearly having fun hamming it up as a cartoonish villain. She also gets nice support from Ryan J. Orlando and Jodi Zwicker-Perrin as Cindy-Lou's parents.

"Who Stole Christmas?" borrows elements not only from the Dr. Seuss book, but from the 1966 animated TV special and the 2000 film. From the animated version comes the iconic songs "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" and "Welcome Christmas" and from the film version the subplot of consumerism taking over Christmas and the song "Where Are You Christmas?," which is sweetly sung by Polly Valiant as Cindy-Lou Who.

Both productions look great. Clemons' production features a lovely painted backdrop that effectively recreates 19th-century England. The costume designs by Amy Anderson and Susan May also do a nice job at creating the look of the era.

For "Who Stole Christmas?" Deborah Jasien has constructed a wonderful Seuss-like set and costumes to match, which are nicely enhanced by makeup done by Janette Kondrat.

Director Ken Martin also keeps "Who Stole Christmas?" short at 35 minutes, making it a good show for even the youngest of children. Clemon's "A Christmas Carol" is longer, around two hours with a 20-minute intermission, making it more appropriate for older children, perhaps 7 and up.

Tickets for "A Christmas Carol" are $10 for adults and $5 for children under age 12. For more information or to order tickets, call The Eastern Slope Theater Box Office at 356-5776. Tickets for "Who Stole Christmas?" are $15 for adults, $10 for students, seniors and veterans, family four-packs are $40 and children under 5 are free. Call 662-7591 for a reservation.

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