Putting the Scrooge to farce in 'Carol'

theater review

March 29, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Bowie Community Theatre caps its three-play season of comedies with Daniel Sullivan's Inspecting Carol, a backstage farce about a struggling dysfunctional regional theater company's problems with its annual cash-cow production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The fictional New Brunswick Soapbox Players count on A Christmas Carol to help finish their season in the black. Beset by compounding problems at this approaching holiday season, artistic director Zorah Bloch deals with directing domineering actor Larry Vauxhall, who plays Scrooge, planning to turn Dickens' classic into a political statement. Facing a 50 percent drop in subscription renewals, Bloch soon learns from the company's financial manager, Kevin Emery, that the National Endowment for the Arts may withhold its annual $30,000 grant.

As the play opens, manager M.J. McMann is preparing for a rehearsal when inexperienced aspiring actor Wayne Wallace arrives seeking an audition, claiming to be a professional actor. Having learned that NEA will send an agent to determine the company's grant worthiness, director Bloch hires Wayne for her cast, assuming this clearly untalented actor is actually the NEA agent. Wayne and Larry set about rewriting Dickens to challenge this cast of limited talents.

BCT director Joe Thompson assembled a cast of novice to seasoned actors appropriate to the script and staged the action within a permanent modest theater setting, where several audience chairs are placed before an elevated cluttered platform. In his "Director's Notes," Thompson mentions "there were times when the problems involved with putting on a production have blurred the boundaries between us and the characters in the play," quoting Shakespeare's description of theater as "insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster that works out well in the end."

Although the show does indeed come together in the end, the first act had some rough moments when it was difficult to tell if art were imitating life or if there were any art at all. Although cast members did what they could to create believable characters, most seemed one-dimensional and stereotypical. BCT debuting actors Nina Harris, James Jager, Bill Jones and Carole Long held their own with seasoned BCT actors Nancy Dall, Mike Dunlop and Patrick Reynolds, despite grappling with loosely defined characters. The main problem is that comedy succeeds when the pacing is brisk, and here it suffered from a pace beset by several pauses, indicating that actors were groping for forgotten lines.

After intermission the audience size shrunk by perhaps a fifth, which was unfortunate because the show improved in the second act. Veteran actress Dorothy Tree-Hapgood is played by Nina Harris, who does a comic vocal warm-up involving squeezing lemons and a general loosening up of cast members through a series of ridiculous exercises. Later, she sparks laughter by substituting a Southern accent to replace Mrs. Crachit's British one. Together with another debuting BCT actor, Bill Jones as Sidney, they provide a touching Shakespearean tribute as Troilus and Cressida. Later, Jacob Marley's Ghost Jones provokes uproarious laughter as he drags along chains that become entangled with an apparently fallen stage light.

Derrick Springfield, as Walter Parsons, steals every scene working as the only actor of color - an affirmative-action addition to the all-white cast - first spouting anti-imperialist rhetoric and later as the Ghost of Christmas Present suffering from severe stage-fright that renders him speechless, requiring his display of a remarkable array of facial expressions.

Providing Springfield's Christmas Ghost dialogue is Mike Dunlop as Scrooge, who interprets Parsons' pantomime and adds incongruous political commentary to his Marxist retelling of Dickens.

Inspecting Carol continues on weekends through April 4. For reservations, call 301-805-0219.

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