Mark Peterson as The Ghost of Christmas Present and Ernest Heller as Ebenezer Scrooge discuss the error of his ways in the Lakewood Playhouse production of A Christmas Carol. (Photo by Dean Lapin)
by Lynn Geyer
This year’s holiday fare offered at the Lakewood Playhouse is Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story “A Christmas Carol.”
Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in October, 1843 finishing it by the end of November in time to be published for Christmas. In his forward, he wrote: “I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea‚Ä¶” That idea was to show that poverty of soul and mind far surpasses poverty of purse.
Charles Dickens grew up in the poverty of Nineteenth Century London. There was little entertainment for the poor of his era other than the act of begetting children. The children were left much on their own to forge for food by begging or stealing, therefore, many of them ended in workhouses or prison. Dickens narrowly escaped this fate because of his imagination. As his fame as a writer grew, he became a vigorous social campaigner. He lifted not only himself from the mire of the time, but through his allegorical stories, showed the government the need to change the blight of his fellows.
Director Erin Chanfrau adapted Dickens’ tale for the intimate stage-in-the-round at the Playhouse. “I wanted the show to be a little scary and lot of fun,” she said, and she accomplished this skillfully. At the end of each vignette presented to Scrooge, Chanfrau has the actors retreat from the stage walking backward in a quasi slow motion adding to the ghostly feel of the production.
Chanfrau also designed the amazingly simple set which gives the audience a true feel for London of the time. The back wall of the theatre is transformed to a scene of the skyline obscured by the typical fog which hung over the city as the pall hung over Scrooge’s heart. Scrooge’s office and bedroom as well as the Cratchit household is displayed in a fittingly cramped corner, leaving the center of the stage, an open clouded cobble-stoned roadway, for most of the action.
Kristen Zetterstrom did the eerie lighting and Scott Campbell added the ominous sound effects. The very authentic costumes were done by Ricky German.
Once again, the Lakewood Playhouse has amassed a large cast of 26 talented Puget Sound actors to play the more than 40 characters in this little “ghost story;” several play more than one role.
Besides being Party Goers, Emily Anderson is Belle, Ginger Chanfrau is Ignorance, Holly Chanfrau is Want, Russ Coffey is Topper, Joseph Kelly is Young Jacob Marley, Rebecca Wyman is Prudence, Gabriela Aleman is Martha Cratchit and plays the fiddle while the rest dance. Coleman Hagerman plays Young Ebby and Peter Cratchit, Millie Hensley is Fran and Mary Cratchit, Paul Hensley is a School Boy and Simon Cratchit; Connor O’Brien is the Turkey Boy. All fill their roles ably.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience is greeted by a trio of Christmas Carolers singing traditional songs. Cynthia Bettes leads Gary Lichty and Valerie Kirkwood. Their beautiful voices set the mood for the time and the story.
Kirkwood also does an excellent job along with Kathi Aleman as Rag Lady 1 and 2, the cockney duo, who with Ston Koskey as a Poulterer, tell the audience the people’s feelings about Scrooge. The two women carry off the cockney accent with aplomb and are raucously funny and conniving; Koskey is equal to them.
Lichty also plays Fezziwig and Aleman joins him as Mrs. Fezziwig. They are a charming couple who dance the night away with gusto.
Robert Tobias does a very nice job as Young Scrooge. Amber Rose Johnson plays Mrs. Cratchit Perfectly and with understanding. Robert McConkey is quite good as Bob Cratchit. Cameron Pope is Tiny Tim, this curly-haired moppet is exactly as Dickens must have imagined him; when McConkey hoists him onto his shoulder, Pope can be heard throughout the theatre with the famous, “God bless us everyone!”
Luke Amundson is Scrooge’s nephew Fred and Kat Christensen is his wife, Belinda. Both do very good work and shine with well developed characters.
The three specters also play more than one part.
Mike McGrath is The Ghost of Christmas Past and a Caroling Boy. As Past, he is suitably eerie; as the street waif Caroling Boy, he does a wonderful job of maintaining his character of the chilled child huddling for warmth.
Mark Peterson is the Donation Gentleman and The Ghost of Christmas Present. He is proper as the man dismissed by Scrooge when asking for a donation. However, as Present, Peterson takes the stage and the audience unto himself. He is truly full of life and hope.
Christian Doyle handles three roles, that of a poor man who wanders about the stage, The Ghost of Christmas Future and the Ghost of Jacob Marley. As Future, Doyle is a proper specter completely draped in black not uttering a word ‚Äî one of the eeriest sights in the production. However, as Marley’s ghost, Doyle outdoes himself. He struts around the stage almost like a broken robot, first scary then so comical it brings peals of laughter from the audience.
Finally, we have Ernest Heller as Ebenezer Scrooge. Heller is as mean a skinflint who ever squeezed a penny. Quite believable when he tells Marley that he is probably “a bit of underdone potato.” He is suitably frightened when he is greeted by the each specter. However, when he awakes Christmas morning to a new man, Heller is beautifully befuddled and bumbling, changing into a loving and giving human just as Dickens imagined him.
“A Christmas Carol” continues at the Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, behind the Pierce Transit Depot through December 28 each Friday and Saturday evening at 8 and Sunday matinees at 2 with a special Pay-What-You-Can night set for Thursday, December 11 and an Actor’s Benefit matinee Saturday, December 27. For reservations or more information, call (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.com.
The Lakewood Playhouse promises “A Christmas Carol” will be the beginning of a wonderful holiday season for the whole family.