The theatre of American politics has been on a 24-hour-a-day run for a week now, and the situation playing out in Florida has a host of entertaining elements; comedy, drama, mystery, and suspense have taken us on a roller-coaster ride of emotional highs and lows. And the players ... oh how the players have stolen the show.
How does this relate to Playcrafters' production of Dickens' Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts, you ask? Some out there might draw a parallel between the election and the play's title, but it's the wonderful players in Playcrafters' production who steal the show and take the audience on a laugh-filled ride.
Mark Landon Smith has written a witty take on Dickens' classic Christmas story. The play is actually about the members of a fictitious troupe, Styckes-Upon-Thump Repertory Company, performing Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The theatre-group characters even have their own bios in the program, which are a must-read.
All of the characters in Dickens' story are there, but only seven actors play them; characters will leave the stage and appear moments later as different people. They are disheveled and out-of-breath, and remnants of their previous incarnations are clearly visible. The script is taped to hand muffs, pillows, and bowls because some of the actors haven't memorized their lines. Lights are miscued and props are kicked across the floor. All of these moments are intentionally bad, and the end result is a funny and refreshing piece.
To make a play good that was deliberately written to be this bad takes serious talent and comedic timing, and director Rick Cassini has assembled a cast that fills both requirements. They make a true ensemble, giving their individual performances just enough of the ridiculous without taking away from anyone else.
Howard Johnson plays the wonderfully crotchety Sir Selsdon Piddock, who is never one to miss a bow, even in the middle of the scene. Applause is applause and requires immediate acknowledgment, and Johnson, portraying Sir Seldon (who is in turn playing Scrooge), never misses a beat.
James Driscoll has his hands full as Elyot Crummels playing Bob Cratchit, Mr. Fezziwig, and Marley's ghost, to name a few. Marley's chain is a long and ponderous one - heavy enough to send Crummels crashing to the floor on more than one occasion - and Driscoll carries off this and many other hysterical moments as naturally as can be.
Debbie Reynolds and Mary Ross give delightful performances as Bettina Salisburg and Cordelia. Theirs is a rivalry that occurs in the middle of a scene, behind the scenes, and through others' scenes, and Reynolds and Ross bring impeccable timing to their roles. Dana Moss-Peterson is well over six feet tall, but as Teddy, playing Tiny Tim, he's as small as small can be in one of the funniest bits in the play. All of these actors blend their talents into a seamless group. The technical elements in Smith's play are another challenging area. To be as "bad" as intended, the designers - Marty Miller for lights and Craig Ross for sound - have to be very good. And they are. The miscues are perfectly cued, appearing to be natural mistakes. The scene changes are part of the insanity, and Sam Michael as the snow man had the audience in stitches. Styckes-Upon-Thump Repertory Company can't afford a snow machine, but a fistful of snow delivered by Michael worked just fine.
By the end of this next week, those watching the theatre of American politics will no doubt need some relief. There is no better place to find it than at Playcrafters' production of Dickens' Christmas Carol.
Peformances of Dickens' Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts continue this weekend at Playcrafters Barn Theater in Moline. The Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m., and the Sunday show starts at 4 p.m.