Not just another 'Christmas Carol'

Theater

December 19, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If the glut of "Christmas Carols" is beginning to seem like a drag, then the Forum Theater has a dickens of a twist for you.

Titled "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of A Christmas Carol," this farcical cross-dressing rendition by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987.

Admittedly, a drag "Christmas Carol" isn't for everyone. But as directed by Bill Toscano, this amusing show is so congenial, it could be just the thing to ward off last-minute holiday hysteria.

The revelry begins when Phoebe Reece -- Brian Jacobs, wearing a black wig and powder blue dress and toting a large gold handbag -- wanders into the audience and hands out cough drops while informing theatergoers of a delay because some of the actors are stuck in traffic.

In the first of several instances of audience participation, Phoebe then auditions members of the audience to fill in as Scrooge. Fortunately for all reluctant Scrooges, the cast shows up, headed by Murray Hunt as Thelma Greenwood, a townswoman with a decided star attitude that leads to more than a few on-stage altercations with Phoebe.

The ensuing botched dramatization of Dickens' classic is Murphy's Law incarnate. Missed light cues, bungled entrances, memory lapses, misplaced props and falling scenery all plague the Dramatic Society's well-meaning, but exuberantly amateur, theatrical effort.

Jacobs' Phoebe is the character most responsible for the congenial atmosphere. Like most members of this five-person cast, Phoebe also takes several roles in "A Christmas Carol," ranging from a not-so-tiny Tim to the Ghost of Christmas Future, a figure totally cloaked in black, though still clutching that inseparable gold handbag.

Besides Hunt's haughty Thelma -- who plays Scrooge's last scene in a beaded dress topped with a tailcoat and top hat -- the other comic Farndalites are portrayed by Gary Dieter as the crotchety senior member of the company, who suffers from assorted aches and pains, wears a neck brace throughout and has considerable trouble remembering lines ("Tiny Tim," for example, comes out "Tommy Tune"); and Doug Bowles, an actor with an uncanny skill at female impersonation, who portrays the group's klutzy dance specialist.

The cast includes only one woman, Alexandra Ellen Page, who plays Phoebe's nephew, a bumbling, irascible stage manager, who is, in turn, cast as various Dickens characters including Mrs. Cratchit. In other words, Page is a woman playing a man playing a woman, as opposed to the rest of the cast members, who are men playing women playing men.

The rule seems to be the sillier the better, and Forum's production adheres to that rule. The festivities even include a game of charades and a "Silent Night" sing-along using the lyrics to "Jingle Bells." If you thought Mr. Magoo's "Christmas Carol" was a travesty, you haven't seen what the Farndale Townswomen can do.

'Christmas Carol'

Where: Forum Theater, 912 Washington Blvd.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Dec. 23 and 30; 9 p.m. Dec. 31; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Jan. 5

Tickets: $15 ($25 for New Year's Eve show and party)

Call: (410) 576-2333

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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