Friday, December 20, 2013

REVIEW: "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge" Presented by Love Street Playhouse at the Columbia Theatre in Longview

THE TRIAL OF EBENEZER SCROOGE, by Mark Brown, will be presented in cooperation with Woodland's Love Street Playhouse and Longview's Columbia Theatre, now through December  22.

The Play

A year after his miraculous transformation, Scrooge is back to his old ways, suing Marley and the Ghosts. But, perhaps, things are not as they appear? Directed by Love Street's Melinda Leuthold, this "Trial of the Century," is sure to bring a few laughs (and some insight). This play may be all you need to bring the true Christmas spirit into your holiday season and the rest of your year.

While a bit wordy and slow in the first act (the playwright seemed more concerned with getting in a bevy of Dicken's quotes than moving the story along), the play's second act contains the bulk of the action as well as the reveal and message. Basically, much of the play is a talky recap of the proceedings of "A Christmas Carol" (as if we need a reintroduction to each of the characters)--something that should have been established in the first twenty minutes and not an hour.

The Players

Kevin Taylor as Ebeneezer Scrooge
The cast consists of Kyler Mitchell as Fred and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Mark Bergeson as Bob Cratchit and Marley Jacob,
Melissa Harte as Mrs. Cratchit, Sara Wainwright, The Translator and Mrs. Dilber, Kevin Taylor as Scrooge, J. Christopher Cleveland as Solomon Rothschild, Laurel Anderson as The Ghost of Christmas Past, Fan and Belle, Michael McElliott as Judge Pearson, and Craig Hoehne as The Bailiff.

Good performances were generally given by all. Some of the players are familiar to me from the LSP ensemble and some were not, though are likely familiar to the Longview theater patrons. There were a few standout performers worthy of special mention.

Mark Bergeson, Melissa Harte and Kevin Taylor
(costumes not final) in The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Though not quite the Scrooge you've probably come to expect (as played by the likes of Alastair Sims, George C. Scott, Albert Finney or Michael Caine perhaps), I kind of liked the portrayal given by Kevin Taylor. It had a different look and a bit of a different feel. Though young, and while he didn't sound at all British, Taylor played the role with the right mix of curmudgeon-ry and fiestiness.

I am usually very delighted by the talents of Laurel Anderson. She is a fantastic actress and truly amazing for her age. BUT I didn't see much of difference in the three disparate roles (Ghost of Christmas Past, Fan and Belle) she plays for this production. Her acting was fine, but the roles all ran together. This was possibly due to the quick change required--the parts came right after one another with no real time to get into a new character. (I'll explain more later on.)

Frankly, I am surprised, because I know she could have pulled it off and I am perplexed at why she didn't. I felt she could have played the Ghost of Christmas Past in a more child-like manner and voiced it in a higher register. I also felt that Belle could have been played with more maturity.

[However, as I have given this more thought I am wondering if the playwright intended to run these characters together and play them all young (as in the past) since they each develop out of the Ghost of Christmas Past. (?) If so, it doesn't really work well or needs to be better set up.]

Most of the cast did not do well with the British accent, and Christopher Cleveland's Yiddish came occasionally, but mostly went. Speaking of Cleveland, the role of Rothschild would be a huge undertaking for any actor and the biggest part I've seen him play. He handled it quite well and I genuinely liked his portrayal of the Jewish lawyer.

Mark Bergeson as the ghost of Jacob Marley takes the stand.
I also think Mark Bergeson was exceptional as Bob Cratchit. It was a truly great performance and one with the right accent and mannerisms (I especially liked the tic). However, I did not like his portrayal of Jacob Marley; the way he spoke drastically slowed the pace of the show and it began to drag and become tiresome.

The shining star of the entire ensemble was Melissa Harte. I must say, she seems to be an amazing actress. She played four (that's right FOUR) disparate roles with great aplomb. Each was distinctly different. All were hilarious and all with different physicality and voices, including different class accents. Wonderful!

The Production

Typically, one expects Love Street Playhouse to deliver a stunning show; even on their itty-bitty stage they deliver BIG theater. Combine that with what the Columbia Theatre has to offer and you would think there would be an ascent into amazing--a match made in heaven. I didn't find it so. I was expecting a notch up and it didn't deliver. I believe much of that had to do with the material, but I also don't think it was Leuthold's best directorial work (mainly due to pacing). I'm not saying the production was bad, I'm simply saying it didn't meet my expectations or the LSP standard I'm use to. However, it truly is a good show and...

The set design by Robert Cochran. simply MUST see it for the set and costumes alone, if not for some outstanding performances and its message. 

The set (design by Robert Cochran) towers two actual stories, not simulated levels as limited by the Love Street Playhouse. While simpler than the usual Love Street Playhouse scenic detail (usually by Jeff and Melinda Leuthold) it is quite good. The cross, built into the judge's bench at center stage, is a subtle reminder of the power of redemption at the center of the Christmas message.

The show had a few effects as well. I wasn't going to mention some of the "magic" so that you might be surprised, but I have decided to discuss it here since I think they could have been done much better. Except for the candle blowing out at the end, none of the effects were really "magical" at all. Marley's appearance could have been more spectacular (which comes from the word specter) had the fog better obscured his entrance or another illusion been used.

The flying effect was poorly choreographed; it was as if no instruction or training at all on how to "sell it" were given to Anderson. Even with this simplest of rigs, flight (as opposed to mere hang) can be simulated with practice. [This is the fault of the flight company.] I don't feel Anderson was given enough time in the harness. [Which may the fault of not having the rig long enough.]

Finally, Anderson's transformation (costume change) from one character to another could have been better achieved as well. Each (but especially the first) was clumsy and needed another layer of effect (besides the sound effect) and much more rehearsal and slight-of-hand to make the magic work. We should NOT see the wires unclipped from the harness!

Lighting design by Kelly Ragsdale.
The colorful lighting (designed by resident LD/TD Kelly Ragsdale) uses a broader spectrum of fixtures not available at LSP. Front lit frosted panels provide much of the color and mood though some side lights also add to the palette.

Overall the lighting wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. There were several areas of drop off across the lip of the stage and near the bench. A little texture on the floor (repeating the panel motif) might have been nice as well.

The costumes (design by Lori Anderson) are magnificent, which is to be expected from LSP. The sound design (by Joe "Mr. Utah" Jenkins) was also well done. And, technically, the show went on without a hitch.

The Price

Performances are at the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts in Longview with matinees at 2 p.m. and evening shows at 7:30 p.m. THIS WEEKEND ONLY. Check the ticketing site below for date/time information. Tickets are $16.50 to $21.50. For more information and a link to the ticketing site click here.

The beautiful Columbia Theatre in Longview, Wash.
Photo by Ruth A. Zschomler.
NOTE: I had the chance to speak with Gian (pronounced John) Paul Morelli, the Executive Director of Columbia Theatre, before the show, which was a delight. He enthusiastically explained to me that this "marriage" was an experiment. The theater usually offers the work of touring shows and artists (theater, music, comedy, etc.) and not local theater. He said this partnership was the first of many the theater hopes to form, offering one locally produced play each year. Bravo!

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler.
Photos, by Darci Elliott, provided, except as noted.

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