Mark Karcher

A Christmas Carol at Haddonfield Plays and Players

HPP A Christmas CarolThe originality of A Christmas Carol always impressed me. I never would’ve imagined someone spending Christmas alone while haunted by the ghosts of the past, present and future without the use of alcohol. I also found the dramatic presentation of this tale performed by Haddonfield Plays and Players to be equally distinctive. The cast delivered a stellar rendition of this sine qua non of the Holiday season. I attended the December 1, 2017 performance directed by Mark Karcher.

Michael Hicks delivered a haunting performance of a haunted man. Mr. Hicks is a superb and gifted actor. Several years ago I had the pleasure of watching his exceptional interpretation of Dr. Sloper in the Haddonfield Plays and Players production of The Heiress. (Talk about a character that reveled in bitterness and alcohol.) I relished the opportunity to watch his rendition of what began as the most miserable character in literature. This time the role required a transition into a joyous humanitarian. Would Mr. Hicks meet the challenge?

This performer went beyond what many would do in order to get into character. To adopt Scrooge’s appearance he grew mutton chops. He delivered the iconic line “bah, humbug” with suave assurance. Mr. Hicks then craftily brought the audience into the character’s metamorphosis from a self-absorbed miser into a kindly philanthropist. As morose as he portrayed Scrooge at the show’s beginning at the end he became a different character. He demonstrated the laughter and joy of a man impassioned with humanity. Dickens’ character changed dramatically, and Mr. Hicks brought that transformation to life on the Haddonfield Players’ stage.

A Christmas Carol featured an exceptional visual spectacle. I actually heard gasps from the audience when the Ghost of Christmas Past (played by Jennie Pines) made her appearance. Ms. Pines wore a white gown similar to a wedding dress. A strand of bright lights wrapped around her. The theatre became dark. As she descended down the aisle, her entrance created the illusion of an apparition floating from the heavens down to the stage. Then the rotating specks of light against the backdrop simulated snowfall. Ms. Pines costume along with the set combined for a beautiful image of a winter wonderland.

I received an early Christmas Present with Alex Levitt playing the Ghost of Christmas Present. I enjoyed watching this veteran of the Haddonfield Players return to the stage. He applied more range to the role than I would’ve expected. The character began as a jolly and merry soul. Before his exit, he delivered a minatory warning to Scrooge. Mr. Levitt selected a raspy voice in which to do so. The long beard combined with the red robe made him look like Santa Clause. The contrast between his appearance and his delivery made for an interesting scene.

George Clark’s sound design enhanced the atmospherics. The echo effect on Ms. Pines’ voice made her character even more ethereal. When used on Tony Killian’s (as the ghost of Jacob Marley) it made him much more horrifying.

While not the musical version of A Christmas Carol, the dramatic performance still showcased some fantastic singing. Nicky Intrieri (as Tiny Tim) delivered an outstanding unaccompanied solo number. The falsetto choir’s rendition of Holiday staples such as “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night” emanated a superb Yuletide spirit.

I’ve written before that I don’t care for narration in live drama. John Mortimer adapted this rendition of A Christmas Carol for the stage. Instead of one story teller he decided that just about every performer should narrate some section of the tale. While I find this type of exposition annoying, in this show I also found much of it unnecessary. The most egregious offenders included:

“Scrooge sees Marley’s face on the door knocker.” A character delivered this line as I watched Scrooge both look at and comment upon Marley’s face on the door knocker.

“Scrooge hears bells.” A narrator said this line while my ears rang (no pun intended) with the sound of myriad bells going off in the theatre.

“Marley walked down the stairs dragging his chains.” This one requires no further explanation.

To all the budding dramatists out there: show or tell. Make a choice. Don’t do both.

I’d like to credit Edwin Howard for putting his power tools to proficient work on the set design. The London backdrop featuring Big Ben, London Bridge and the full moon made great scenery.

It’s also proper to recognize the other performers who rounded out a stellar cast. Their combined efforts delivered a very entertaining evening: Dan Safeer, Jonathan Greenstein, Jay Burton, Tony Killian, Jennifer Flynn, Maddox Mofit-Tighe, Gracie Sokiloff, Brynne Gaffney, Gianna Cosby, Tess Smith, Ryan McDermott, Jake Hufner, John Williams, Isabella Mulliner, John Bravo, Ricky Conway, Anne Buckwheat, Olivia Williams, Jenn Adams, E’Nubian Beckett, Jessi Gollin, Solaida Santiago, and Nadia Faulk.

It’s hard to imagine the Holiday Season without experiencing A Christmas Carol in some form. For those interested in witnessing it performed live, the Haddonfield Players are presenting a great version. That’s no “humbug.” The show runs through December 16th. After that, the Ghost of Christmas Past may just haunt you for not taking advantage of the opportunity.

 

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Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry presented by Haddonfield Plays and Players

Last Night of Ballyhoo developed into the most multifaceted story I’ve ever watched unfold on a live stage. The drama fused the premiere of the Gone with the Wind in 1939, with a quasi-love triangle involving two cousins, coupled with a prevalence of latent anti-Semitism among Southern Jewish society. The incipient phases of the Second World War along with a cotillion that glitterati from all over the South would be in Atlanta to attend served as the backdrop. To exacerbate the complexity, the humorous dialog during the opening scenes convinced me I misread the synopsis. The play began as a comedy! There’s only one word to describe a show like this: awesome.

This Tony Award Winning Alfred Uhry play may sound like a mind-twisting intellectual exercise. The written version of it may well be just that. However, the performers at Haddonfield Plays and Players brought the text to life in a way that made the story easy to follow. I had the pleasure of attending the Opening Night performance of this Mark Karcher directed presentation on February 19th.

Jessica Braynor delivered an outstanding performance as Lala Levy. Ms. Braynor vividly expressed the mannerisms and bubbly Southern accent of an effervescent young woman struggling to assimilate into high society. Her character’s social awkwardness provided a good portion of the humor in this show. She also transitioned into a tragic figure as her mother, played by Lauren Fabbri-Picerno, pushed—well, make that shoved– her daughter to become part of the de facto Southern aristocracy.

Alex Levitt played an exceptional Joe Farkas; the surprising hero of the story. Mr. Levitt showed great range in his performance, as well. He became anxious and fidgety in response to Lala’s advances. In the scene where he first encountered Sunny Freitag (played by Marnie Kanarek) he exhibited coyness and tenderness. I applaud his ability to do so proficiently while speaking in a thick Brooklyn accent.

The stand out moment of this performance (rightly) occurred during the climax. I’ll avoid spoilers, but I will mention that it consisted of an argument between Mr. Levitt and Ms. Kanarek. For the only time in the show Mr. Levitt’s character lost his temper. Ms. Kanarek displayed indignation at being screamed at while at the same time her character didn’t understand what she did wrong. That’s a tough scene to play and a difficult one for an audience to watch. The two executed this challenge brilliantly.

For a serious show, Last Night of Ballyhoo did contain a lot of humorous dialog. I liked the interplay between Tami Gordon Brody (in the role of Reba Freitag) and Lauren Fabbri-Picerno (as Boo Levy). I’m not sure if the playwright intended the line to be comical, but I found Ms. Fabbri-Picerno’s observation that there shouldn’t be a star on the family’s Christmas Tree because “we’re Jewish” quite amusing.

I’m preferential to laid-back, deadpan wit. Plenty of it occurred in this show. Michael Lovell (as Adolph Freitag) delivered some droll thoughts on marriage. While dozing in his chair with a newspaper over his face, he added some snoring at unusual times during the show.

Alex Young’s character (Preachy Weil) showed why he didn’t have a reputation for honesty. He followed up many of his fabulist declarations, with the expression, “What do you think?” The long, drawn out Southern drawl he used made his delivery more memorable.

In terms of Alfred Uhry’s play itself, I did have some minor issues with it. The story began with a lot of humor, especially around Lala’s quest to get a date for Ballyhoo. When I watched the performance I thought the playwright’s transition to tragedy too abrupt. The more I reflected, I realized a lot of foreshadowing occurred prior to that happening. For those who haven’t seen the show, I won’t provide a detailed explanation. I’d just suggest paying close attention.

I’ve also read that there’s controversy over the Last Night of Ballyhoo’s conclusion. While watching that portion of the performance, I had some questions about it, myself. To be fair to Mr. Uhry, many great dramas have recondite endings. I don’t have an opinion on that one way or the other. How an artist prefers to close his/her work is always at that person’s discretion. I’d suggest theater fans attend the show and draw their own conclusions, no pun intended.

I have to express my admiration for the show’s cast. They managed to play multi-dimensional characters in a dramedy very convincingly. The thought provoking nature of the subject matter got me thinking after the show. While watching it I experienced an enjoyable evening of quality entertainment. I’d prefer attending the Haddonfield Plays and Players performance of Last Night of Ballyhoo to going to the premiere of Gone with the Wind or being present at the real Ballyhoo any evening.