Friday, December 9, 2011
Theater review: The Farndale Avenue Christmas Carol at Mesquite Arts Center
The whole thing was like watching improvisation -- some hilarious, some bombing.
Among the most difficult theatrical forms to pull off is British farce. It walks a fine line between total ridiculousness and total reality. We find ourselves laughing at the silly things that are happening, while feeling some sympathy for the people who are suffering the silly things. Playing too much for laughs dehumanizes the characters; too much toward the real and we feel sorry for them. All of the above happens in the Mesquite Arts Council's production of The Farndale Avenue…Production Of A Christmas Carol (playing at Mesquite Arts Center through December 10).
We are greeted at the door by Mrs. Reece, played by Laura Jennings. She sets the tone well before the play starts. Once in our seats, we are treated to a somewhat Christmasy set and somewhat Christmasy music. In fact, the word "somewhat" fits a lot of this production. I'd love to say something great about the set, the lighting, and the sound, but these elements were just there.
Byron has assembled five talented actors and allowed them to somewhat run the show. Now, here's where it gets tricky for the reviewer. The show is about everything going wrong. So to say that things went wrong is simply to say that's what it's all about. I'll have to go back to the form, British farce.
When well done, the audience is swept along, like tubing the rapids, never given a chance to think, but constantly tickled by what it's experiencing. Any pause, any break in the flow, and momentum is lost, and the show flat lines -- at least temporarily.
And so it is here. One moment we are laughing heartily at the brilliant portrayal of an accident victim by Jocelyn Everette, or the equally brilliant deadpan hilarity of Sherry Etzel, and the next minute nothing is happening, or hard to understand voices are coming from off stage, and we are back to being an audience at a play, rather than participants in the troubles of these women. (By the way, the broken leg tap dance of Everette and the Buster Keatonesque ballet of Etzel is probably worth the price of admission.)
Laura Jennings' Mrs. Reece stays in the high-pitched caricature for the entire show, and, because she plays it for the stereotype, we miss some of the human frustration Mrs. Reese feels. To her credit, keeping her purse on her arm, even as one of the ghosts, was very clever.
As Scrooge, Sheri Tuggle is somewhat on target – ooops, there's that word again. She's there when she's supposed to be, but doesn't appear comfortable (as an actor) in all the silliness. Again, is that the play or the actor? Admittedly, playing the nasty Scrooge and the self-obsessed diva doesn't lend itself to funny stuff.
Chris Wyatt as the put-upon stage hand and flunky might be funny. I don't know. I hardly heard or understood any of his lines. As an actor, he needs to gain confidence in his choices. He's probably better than he thinks he is.
An example of the balance between farce silliness and human experience is strongly underlined when Jocelyn Everett is keeping up a brave front in spite of her sling, casts and pain – keeping that forced cheerful presence, and she is Monty Python wonderful. But when she actually shows pain in some of the dance routines, we start to feel sorry for her, and the humor is gone.
The "somewhat" of this show drops right in the lap of Director Byron Holder. The choppy production is not the fault of the script. It appears to be the lack of understanding of the form. I admit laughing when Frank Sinatra accompanied Scrooge and the ghost with "Come Fly With Me." I'm sure that wasn't in the script -- it jumps form. I laughed when Tiny Tim mentioned the "Blind Buggers." That actually may have been in the script. It doesn't jump form. But the whole thing was like watching improvisation -- some hilarious, some bombing. Or, as I've said too often already, somewhat.
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