Have you ever experienced a time in which your sense of smell caused you to remember things better? Well, when I first got to the Mockingbird on Main on Friday, I immediately noticed that the theatre itself smelled wonderful … and Christmas-y. My sentiment was shared by a fellow patron, whom I overheard sharing her comment to associate director and producer Douglas Kutzli. I also overheard Kutzli say that most of his job working on the production involved saying “No, Tristan, that’s not funny” to the show's director Tristan Tapscott. But here’s the thing: I wish Kutzli had said that so much more. Because while there was nothing about this A Christmas Carol that was bad, gosh darn it, despute valiant efforts, it just wasn’t all that funny.
This isn’t for lack of trying, mind you. And it might just be that Tapscott and I have very different senses of humor, which, okay, is fine. But it seemed to me, at least, that fellow audience members similarly offered more polite chuckles than actual, cracking-up laughter. You may be asking yourself: Well, weren’t you at A Christmas Carol? That show about Ebeneezer Scrooge and the ghosts? It’s definitely not a show people often think of as humorous!
In this case, though, Tapscott and Kutzli took Charles Dickens' story and threw in a radio station that’s producing the tale on the air. A snowstorm has held up the bulk of the cast, leaving just two former vaudeville performers and the stage manager to pick up the slack. Because, obviously, the show must go on, and hijinks ensue.
By all accounts, the Mockingbird has all the ingredients for a great show here: its cast of three is loaded with talent, the costumes were great, and the set looked (and smelled) fantastic. And the basic presentation isn’t all that dissimilar from the venue's seasonal offering Deck the Halls from last year, which I loved.
Taylor Lynn, meanwhile, did everything she was asked to do as the stage-manager character. She brought the audience into the show's world in a “breaking the fourth wall” kind of way, although that did leave me with a few questions right off the bat. If a snowstorm truly prevented a cast from getting to the radio studio, there wouldn’t have been a live studio audience, right? (Do radio shows even have live studio audiences anymore?!) Yet Lynn was marvelous at keeping her stage manager, present whether jumping in as a character from time to time or maneuvering the bulk of the sound effects with a table of tricks; Lynn's upbeat personality was a breath of fresh air in a show full of antics and planned mishaps. Was Lynn’s character at fault for Bradley Robert Jensen’s initial big crash and subsequent time spent unconscious? Sure. But how would she have known how off-the-rails Jensen would go?
Poor Jensen. His character suffered head trauma within the first few minutes and never recovered, popping in here and there and growing ever more erratic and confused. While Jensen looked entirely committed to his role, he was the character whose arrivals I tended to dread, because his interruptions were, more often than not, delaying the actual A Christmas Carol story. There was even, inexplicably, a Jensen detour involving a recitation of The Great Gatsby. Admittedly, it was incredibly well-done. But it still left me wondering: Why?
Jeremy Littlejohn's character was perhaps my favorite. Rocking a glorious set of mutton chops in true Dickensian fashion, Littlejohn, in his vocal delivery, was every bit the excellent storyteller. Most often he was the voice of Scrooge, but was always willing to pitch in when Jensen would disappear without warning. Littlejohn also read the bulk of advertisements during commercial breaks, and not only did the voices he crafted make the jokes flow effortlessly, but his apparent commitment to the fun also made the short ad spots, for me, the most entertaining portions of the whole evening.
The most curious piece of this whole A Christmas Carol production came when Littlejohn was alone on stage reckoning with the Ghost of Christmas Future, because the entire show suddenly turned very serious and straightforward. There was even a smoke machine surrounding the Ebeneezer Scrooge tombstone and no microphone in sight during the monologue. But was this all in the Littlejohn character's head? Was he still on the air and hoping the mics would pick it up? Did it even matter anymore?
Overall, just because this wasn’t my favorite night spent at the Mockingbird on Main, doesn’t mean A Christmas Carol isn’t worth a go. You may find the physical humor and random pop-ins by Jensen significantly funnier than I did, and the talent and production quality are certainly there. At the very least, the comforting, cozy, Christmas-y sights and smells being offered are outstanding.
A Christmas Carol runs at the Mockingbird on Main (320 North Main Street, Davenport IA) through December 17, and more information and tickets are available by visiting TheMockingbirdOnMain.com.