Holiday Ghost Tales: ABET’s “A CHRISTMAS CAROL”

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ATLANTIC BEACH EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE REVIEW

A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM

ABET opened the theatre’s final show of 2016 with a unique version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which will be on stage In Atlantic Beach until December 20, 2016. Call 249-7177 for reservations or visit abettheatre.com. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children under 18. Of note, the play is a one-act and doesn’t have scary moments, so you can bring children of any age; the continuous action will hold their attention.

Dickens’ famous story, well-known to most adults and many children, is frequently performed in theatres and also frequently screened on television during the month of December. ABET offers a version of the classic with an unexpected twist. The script is an adaptation of Dickens’ Victorian novel by Los Angeles based playwright/screenwriter Doris Baizley, which is filled with humor while following the storyline of the original. The play, which debuted in Los Angeles in 1977 and was well received, ran afterward in Los Angeles for five holiday seasons, and is still being done by theaters throughout the country.

The play is about a traveling theatre troupe, and opens shortly after the group’s arrival in a new town where they will be staging “A Christmas Carol.” Although the actors playing Tiny Tim and Scrooge are missing, the show must go on: The Prop Girl, played by sixth-grader Emily Collins, readily agrees to appear as Tiny Tim, while the Stage Manager, played by Evan Gould, reluctantly agrees to appear as Scrooge. Both are excellent in their roles and Mr. Gould is as good in the part as any Ebenezer we have ever seen (and we have reviewed at least ten different performances of this play).

The troupe doesn’t have much money and improvisation is often required. For example, they can’t afford a fog machine, so when the various ghosts arrive, the prop girl conveys the presence of fog by running around the stage holding a sign lettered “FOG.” Each actor plays two or more roles, and three of the actors are clowns with painted red noses. The Ghost of Christmas Present is played by Kyle Bell, Bryce Elliot, and Brianna Dillard, who arrive draped together in a sheet, with all wearing shabby white wigs. We guess you get the idea; expect unusual portrayals of Scrooge’s progression from his miserly past to his joyous redemption. We won’t say more about the various characters as we don’t want to spoil the fun of this fast-paced show.

img_9020The entire stage is used, with Scrooge’s bed to the far left, and various pieces of mobile furniture rolled into place. The costume designs were certainly a creative challenge, and had Ashley Barron and Amy Tillotson doing lots of sewing.

The production was expertly directed by Samuel Fisher, who has an impressive resume as a director and has displayed his fine talent at practically every theatre venue in this area. He is a founding member of Jacksonville’s Phase Eight Theater Company, where he currently serves as Associate Director.

The Production Team included: Samuel Fisher (Director), Stephanie Drog (Stage Manager), Betsy Totten Darnell (Light/ Sound Board Operator), Bryan Frank (Light/Sound Design), and Gordon Frank (Light/Sound Tech).

CAST: Evan Gould (Stage Manager, Scrooge); Emily Collins (Prop Girl, Tiny Tim); T. James Belich (Director, Marley, Ghost of Christmas Future); Nick Kirby (Leading Man, Bob Cratchit); Daphne Moore (Leading Lady, Ghost of Christmas Past, Mrs. Cratchit); Jerald Wheat (Young Leading Man, Fred); Lauren Bell (Ingénue, Belle, Mrs. Fred); Rhodie Jackson( Character Woman, Charitable Woman, Mrs. Fezziwig, Mother In Law, Scavenger #3); Jerry Redfield (Old Clown, School Master, Mr. Fezziwig, Jake the Fence); Brianna Dillard (Clown # 1, Ali Baba, Ghost of Christmas Present #1, Scavenger #1); Brice Elliot (Clown # 2, Parrot, Ghost of Christmas Present #2, Scavenger # 2); Kyle Bell (Clown #3, Little Caroller, Ghost of Christmas Present #3, Scavenger # 4).

Next up for ABET is the musical “Celebration,” which opens January 20, 2017 and will remain onstage through February 5.

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INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR SAMUEL FISHER

BY LIZA MITCHELL

For Sam Fisher, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has always been a holiday favorite because it wasn’t the typical warm, fuzzy Christmas story.  When ABET artistic director Celia Frank asked Fisher if he was interested in directing the production, he jumped at the chance to experience this version of the holiday classic.

“It’s kind of Halloween play in a Christmas play with ghosts on Christmas. You don’t usually think of Christmas being associated with ghosts – unless it’s Dickens,” says Fisher. “Celia mentioned A Christmas Carol but I said I loved the show, not even knowing what version it was. She gave me the script and I read it and I thought this was weird, funny and different. It thought this has a lot of great potential and it could just be a lot of fun.”

“The script that Celia picked is really good and is kind of a different take. It’s much more comedic and it’s shorter. All the parts of A Christmas Carol that people tend to kind of forget are in the play just aren’t in this one. It’s mainly just the ghosts without a lot of other stuff so it sets itself apart in that way.”

With so many different versions of the story produced through the years, it’s difficult to stand apart from the pack while honoring the original story. Fortunately, Fisher was able to infuse a little light into the holiday tale with an original adaptation by Doris Baizley.

“The script that Celia picked is really good and is kind of a different take. It’s much more comedic and it’s shorter. All the parts of A Christmas Carol that people tend to kind of forget are in the play just aren’t in this one. It’s mainly just the ghosts without a lot of other stuff so it sets itself apart in that way.”

It’s also a quirky play within a play that offers a storyline that parallels the original story. The Scrooge-like stage manager, played by Evan Gould, and Emily Collins as the prop girl-turned-Tiny Tim, literally set the stage for the 90-minute production.

“The actors come in and they decide to do A Christmas Carol. It’s got a lot of stuff going on so it’s not too much like any Christmas Carol you’ve probably seen before but it’s still enough of the great story you remember,” says Fisher. “It doesn’t take itself very seriously but it still has some very poignant moments because it’s still Dickens.”

“It’s a quirky band of people who are really good at what they do. It’s really funny to watch them all play in the space together.”

Collins gets roped into playing Tiny Tim because she wants to be an actor and they lose their Tiny Tim along with their Scrooge, which is how the stage manager becomes Scrooge. The story arc follows the traditional telling of the production and the cast helps to elevate those themes throughout the show.

“In the beginning, the stage manager is kind of cold and methodical like Scrooge. He keeps trying to call off the show every time somebody doesn’t show up. He’s very skeptical of the prop girl’s ability to be a good Tiny Tim. There are still a few moments where you see the stage manager coming out for a minute and kind of checking in,” says Fisher. “It’s a quirky band of people who are really good at what they do. It’s really funny to watch them all play in the space together. You can see how the script was written because it’s very ensemble-based. I got really lucky that the right people showed up to audition. Evan and Emily have a great chemistry on stage. They have a really great back and forth which is really nice.”

As the show continues, Fisher says the troupe is transformed as they get lost in the world of Dickens and he hopes the audience will come along for the ride. “It’s easy to watch. It doesn’t put a lot of strain on the audience. It’s a really fun, strong version of A Christmas Carol that’s well suited for the 21st Century audience,” says Fisher. “That’s the impression I got when I read the script, like, I would want to see this.’

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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