What A Dickens!

As soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers have been put away, a parade of Christmastime entertainment steps into center stage. 

Twirling the golden baton are the holiday-themed movies more heartwarming than hot cocoa, and Christmas carols endlessly streaming on the radio. Oh, and that’s just the beginning!

A majority of yuletide stories are based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The protagonist doesn’t believe in the Christmas spirit until he is confronted with his own cynicism, and has to inspire Christmas joy in others.

While most holiday shows are filled with heart-warming moments and a just a dash of comedy, Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre’s production of “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts” will keep theatre-goers laughing all the way through intermission, while the heart-warming message is more of a side dish, family-friendliness included.

If you haven’t seen any shows at The Edison this year, “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol” is the one to see.  Written by Mark Landon Smith, with highjinks—I mean direction—by Shira Dubrovner.

In Smith’s play-within-a-play, the London-based Styckes Upon Thomp Repertory Theatre is staging its final performance of the 15th annual production of the classic Scrooge tale. 

When the troupe’s diva calls in sick, the rag-tag company of actors scrambles to pull together an accidently hilarious rendition of “A Christmas Carol.”

Halfway through Act I, the diva actress bursts into the theatre ready to fight her surprisingly talented understudy, Mrs. Cordelia Ffolkes-Ffortescue Woods, to regain the center stage. The fluctuation in the number of actors brings mirthful pranks and pratfalls to a steady stream of chaos of missed cues, slapstick comedy, and ridiculous special effects.

The original script remains almost entirely unchanged, with very few added lines or extra plot. In fact, the entire show runs a little over an hour, which is fantastic (otherwise we would all die laughing) but unfortunate that we can’t take it home with us. There’s even a 15-minute breathing break halfway through.

Veteran performer Greg Young plays Sir Selsdon Piddock, portraying Ebenezer Scrooge. With over five years of Mammoth Lakes performances under his fancy top hat, Young is the perfect choice for the role of Piddock, playing the straight man with incredible amounts of energy. Piddock’s ego is so enormous he hardly notices the insanity around him, and Young pulls it off without distancing himself from the audience.

Gail Swain plays “theatre legend” Mrs. Bettina Salisbury (the diva) as cutesy yet intimidating, putting the fear of Macbeth in her fellow co-stars and following it up with a smile. Opposite Swain as Mrs. Cordelia Ffolkes-Ffortescue Woods, is Jarrett Jackson, who appeared in Sierrra Classic Theatre’s “The Tempest” this summer and MLRT’s “The Odd Couple” (female version) last fall.

Jackson’s comedic charm is in full swing while delivering some of the more passive-aggressive lines in the play.

No stranger to comedy, Tim Casey plays an actor struggling to play the many characters he’s been assigned. Casey absolutely steals the show with his Buster Keaton-like expressions and incredible physical comedy.  From baby-powder projectile wigs, speedy costume changes and troublesome chains becoming wrapped around all the furniture on set, he was obviously the perfect blend of goofy and flexible for the part. Casey is also the Technical Director at the Edison Theatre.

Also joining the cast is long-time SCT Murder Mystery performer, the talented Jennifer Collins, who will be appearing this spring in ‘The Miracle Worker.”  Collins stands out as the talking Harpo Marx of the group by embracing subtle humor techniques, excellent timing, and irreverent facial expressions. Collins, with the other carolers, creates a memorable moment when they must stall for time. 

While the handsome Drew Foster has preformed for SCT in the past, he is making his debut on the Edison stage. Foster does his best high-spirited overacting, a skill which is much harder to pull off than it may look. Fellow newcomer, Valerie Porges portrays the sweet understudy who never memorized a single line. Porges has instead not-so-cleverly hidden her lines in—and on—everything … her costume, a handkerchief … even in the pudding!

As always, the production crew did an outstanding job.  Recently the crew welcomed set designer and scenic painter June Simpkin to the team, who did a fantastic job painting the streets of London. Simpkin recently designed the elaborate pirate ship set for MLRT’s production of Bluenose, and will be providing her talents to future shows.

“A Dickens’ Christmas Carol A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts” is playing at the Edison Theatre now until Dec. 23.  Theatre goers might want to get their tickets soon, as some nights are already sold out.  It plays Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. General Admission is $20, Students/ Seniors is $18 and $10 for children under 16 years old. Visit www.mammothlakesfoundation.org/theatre or call 760-934-6592 for more information.