Whether it’s on the big screen or on stage, show-within-a-show productions are tricky. Timing is everything, especially in comedy. But Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Shira Dubrovner has a true knack for tricky, as can be witnessed (again) in her latest production: “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts.” A sort of Monty Python meets Murphy’s Law, suffice to say this is not your typical Dickens.
This Dickens is a play-within-a-play, following the dysfunctional, and at times egomaniacal, members of the pitifully small-time Styckes-Upon-Thump Repertory Company, on its 15th farewell tour of “A Christmas Carol.” The costumes are patched, the sets are flimsy, and there aren’t enough actors to play all the parts. But, in the tradition of the theatre, the show must go on, and so it does, but not without some difficulty.
At the outset, the Styckes “cast” takes the stage with the earnest hope they can pull off “A Christmas Carol,” but it’s not long before things spiral out of control. Overwhelmed by a script with too many parts for too few actors, and underwhelmed by a lack of props, proper scenery and technical difficulties, everyone soon realizes it’s going to take a lot more than “God bless us, everyone” to make it to the final curtain.
That’s to the audience’s benefit, with sight gags, pratfalls, adlibs, and blown lines and cheesy costume changes making for one festive, frantic, frenetic farce. And what makes the play (and the play inside a play) all the more enjoyable is that, in spite of the ruckus, the script manages to present all the real important parts of the story, the cast delivering a more or less complete version even Dickens himself might recognize.
Before the show starts, the audience is given a program-within-a-program for the play-within-a-play. In it are descriptions of the funnily fictitious Styckes-Upon-Thump Company and maniacal members. For example, Sir Selsdon Piddock (Greg Young), a legend in his own mind, plays Scrooge. Young is onstage almost the entire time, and is the only actor playing just one role. And what a role, hamming it up as both Piddock and Scrooge with pumped up panache.
Stage veteran Jarrett Jackson, who recently appeared in the Edison Theatre production of “The Odd Couple” female version and in last summer’s SCT production of “The Tempest,” portrays Mrs. Cordelia ffoliet-ffolkes ffortescue Woods. Because Ms. Bettina Salisbury (Gail Swain) does not arrive in time for curtain, Cordelia takes over Bettina’s roles, which leads to chaos when Bettina finally arrives. Well versed in comedy, Jackson plays Cordelia playing Martha Cratchit, Bell, Fred’s Wife, Fan, Partygoer at Fezziwig’s, Citizen #1, Caroler and Various London Citizens.
Speaking of Swain, a native of Bishop and member of Altrusa, the Writers Actors Guild, the Mural Society and Playhouse 395, she’s a hoot as the late-arriving Mrs. Bettina Salisbury, and spends the rest of the production trying to replace (or at least upstage) Cordelia in all her scenes.
New to local theatre, Valerie Porges plays the hopelessly overburdened and underprepared understudy, Cynthia Imbry, who is thrown into numerous roles, none of which she has memorized. Porges, a Cerro Coso student and Mammoth Lakes Foundation scholarship recipient, moved to Mammoth when she was 17 to join Mammoth Ski Team and raced competitively for two years. She’s right at home playing Imbry as a fish out of water, her lines scribbled on every prop imaginable, including the Christmas pudding!
MLRT’s right hand man, Tim Casey not only built the set and serves as the company’s Technical Director, he also acts, this time portraying Mr. Elyot Crummels who in turn plays, among his 10 characters, Bob Cratchit, Mr. Fezzwig, and the Ghost of Marley.
Is relative newcomer Drew Foster, who recently appeared in the SCT production of “The Tempest,” up to the task of becoming burgeoning thespian Teddy Shub? Yes! He’s a gas in various roles ranging from Tiny Tim (who is substantially shorter than Foster’s 6’1” height) to Nephew Fred, to Young Scrooge, just three of his eight or so parts. And Jennifer Collins, whorecently returned from New Orleans, portrays Dame Rowena Middleton-Lewis, whose multiple roles include Peter Crachit, various Londoners, and possibly the funniest Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come you’ll ever see.
Also back with MLRT’s is June Simpkins, a 20-year Mammoth local, who painted the sets not only for this production, and also MLRT’s recent production of “Bluenose,” as well as “The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet,” and “Proof” for SCT, and “The Wizard of Oz” for Mammoth High School.
As with the film adaptation of Dickens in “A Muppets Christmas Carol,” it’s refreshing to find a show that doesn’t take itself or its material too seriously. Borrowing from some of the same vein of humor that made “Lend Me A Tenor” so successful, Dubrovner has staged a light, enjoyable Christmas present.
“A Dickens’ Christmas Carol” plays through Dec. 23 Thursday-Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Edison Theatre, 100 College Parkway, across from Cerro Coso College in Mammoth. Purchase tickets online at the new Edison Theatre website: www.EdisonTheatre.org. Tickets are $20 Adults/$18 Senior and students/$10 under age 16. Group rates available. Info: 760.934.6592.
(Photo: Bluebird Imaging)