By CHARLIE JARRETT
Martinez News-Gazette Columnist
This time of the year often delivers fond memories for us of stories that we have read and plays that we have seen that bring us messages of love, compassion, redemption and goodwill. This year we have two unique and considerably different takes on Charles Dickens’ 1843 story, A Christmas Carol. First, one of my absolute favorites is the Center Repertory Company’s production, under the direction of Scott Denison, in the Dean Lesher Hofmann Theater in Walnut Creek. Next, is a clever and uniquely almost new presentation of the same story, but created to reflect the tale in our current time frame. This modernized rewrite of the story mirrors in some fashion, the mindset of the original Scrooge, as if such a highly undesirable and unsympathetic creature were alive today in the persona of a politician all-too-familiar to us. This modern version of the classic play is entitled “NOT A Christmas Carol” and has been crafted by playwright Kathryn G. McCarty. It is presented by the Onstage Repertory Theater group in the Martinez Campbell theater.
On those Christmas holiday’s that I have seen the original Christmas Carol, I have looked forward to the enjoyment brought to me by the many insightful quotes from the original Christmas Carol story that have survived 176 years. Typical of these fondly remembered quotes that I enjoy include Tiny Tim’s exuberant and joyful cry at the end of the show, “God bless us, every one!”, and Scrooge’s antagonistic response to his nephew Fred, who joyfully expresses good seasonal greetings to him, “Bah!”, “Humbug!” To which Fred responds, “Christmas, a Humbug Uncle?” – – – “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason do you have to be morose? You’re rich enough.” The familiar theme and verbiage follow year after year in production after production. I look forward to each chortle, threat, whimper, and exclamation of astonishment that reminds us of who we are and what values in life we should embrace as put forth in this brilliantly written story.
The “Christmas Carol” production produced by the Center Repertory Company is always a celebration and an exclamation of how important it is for us to care, love, forgive, and share with others. Center Rep always brings its audience the finest aspects of theater in every respect, providing some new and some seasoned and accomplished actors, who play the various characters in the typical Dickens’ story. Each production presented by this premier theater-company wow’s it’s audiences with its beautiful sets artfully updated from time to time, lighting and special effects in the show I had the good opportunity to see this year. Scrooge is performed very well by Michael Ray Wisely, and the ghost of Christmas Past is charmingly played by Kerri Shawn. At the same time, other faces anew to me include Jeff Draper, who portrays both the fearful and deceased Marley, Scrooge old partner, and the money monger, Old Joe. Each season brings another occasion for me to adamantly declare the Center Repertory Company’s production as a “must-see” event for all ages.
This production continues through the remainder of this week, with performances today, December 18, at 9:30 AM, tomorrow, December 19 at both 9:30 AM and again at 7:30 PM. On Friday, December 20 the performance will begin at 7:30 PM, and on Saturday, December 21, there will be performances at both 2 PM and 7:30 PM. On this coming Sunday following there will be performances at 2 PM and a closing performance at 7 PM. The Center Repertory Company is located at 1601 Civic Dr. in downtown Walnut Creek, in the Lesher Center for the arts. Additional ticket information can be reached by going to www.centerREP.org or by calling 943.SHOW (7469). Tickets are reasonably comfortable at $29-$50 each.
The production I discussed in my opening paragraph, NOT A Christmas Carol , currently playing at the Campbell theater in downtown Martinez, may or may not be to your liking in that it takes a highly critical, and to all intents and purposes, seemingly accurate portrayal of a Donald Trump persona in Scrooge’s character. This Scrooge (played well by John Blyt) is a modern-day bombastic bully, a real estate magnate, a narcissistic and braggadocio character who has little empathy or compassion for anyone. All of the other characters in this production are only similar to original Dicken’s characters in that their names, lifestyle, financial standing, accomplishments and societal problems are common to those in Dickens’ telling of the story. What is delightful in the show is that a good number of the performers, including Dodie Katigue (Bob Cratchet), Hayley Kennan (Jacob Marley), Mira Deslonde (as the Christmas Present Ghost), Michael Wedgley (Belle’s husband and many other characters), and Julianna Bird (young belle, among other characters she plays), give their own unique stamp to the characters and deliver their portrayals with passion and conviction, which are especially well done, considering that some of these performers are quite young and neophyte in their acting skills. There are 23 performers in this show, some as young as four and five years of age. There are aspects I wish had been better construed, such as a more imaginative set and better lighting design. But then again, small companies have little resources to create with what they have not!
NOT A Christmas Carol is primarily an amateur acting level production that is quite unique, at times very funny, somewhat disturbing, and definitely thought-provoking. The question in my mind is, can I accept that a Scrooge as dark as the one in this story can become a kindly and a reformed human being? This production continues through this week with the Thursday, December 19th performance at 7:30 PM, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 PM, and closing on Sunday the 22nd following their 2:30 PM performance. Tickets are only $22 for adults in general, with a reduction of three dollars for students, seniors and military. The Thursday performance is only $15 for everyone who attends that performance. For reservations you may call area code (925) 350-9770 or purchase them at the theater lobby box office or at the Martinez Campbell theater website which he may be found at www.Campbelltheater.org. The Theater is located at 636 Ward Street in downtown Martinez, where on-street parking is free in the evening.