Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas Carol starring John Harrell

John Harrell in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Bailey.
My first experience at "A Christmas Carol" last year was not a good one. While I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, the crowd was a teeming mass that made it all but impossible to enjoy the play. Last night we attended the "Pay What You Will" performance and the crowd was huge, but this time much better behaved. The problem with crowds for Christmas Carol is that they are not the typical Blackfriars Playhouse crowd. This is more of a crowd that is there because of tradition-- they just have to go see "A Christmas Carol" just like they have to spend a third of their salary on junky Christmas gifts. Also, unlike most shows at the ASC, this is a small child friendly performance, so you will have a lot more children in attendance, and they will naturally get restless at points. Anyway, when you go see "A Christmas Carol" keep these factors in mind.

This year John Harrell dons the nightcap of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and does a wonderful job with it. He played the role in 2007 and takes over for James Keegan who played Scrooge the past two years. Keegan, a stage master, plays a meaner Scrooge, one that I wouldn't care to go toe to toe with. Harrell plays a more nuanced, snively, snarky, but vulnerable Scrooge. You feel like you could totally kick his ass but you better not try because he has the money and position to make you regret it. Harrell is capably backed by the Reckless Ecstasy touring troupe, led by an amazingly thoughtful performance by Chad Bradford as The Narrator. The Narrator is a vital role in this play, though it can easily be dismissed because who takes note of a character called The Narrator? Well, Bradford makes sure he is seen and remembered in his performance by interacting more (physically) with Scrooge and the audience. Husband and wife team Jake Mahler and Denice Burbach make a wonderful Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. Rick Blunt is indeed a Christmas Present as he plays the role of The Ghost of Christmas Present. Rick can make you smile just with his presence. Daniel Jimenez is hilarious as the Plump Sister and a half-dozen other roles. Jonathan Holtzman had some kids squirming as the Jacob Marley, the ever-charming Ginna Hoben delighted as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Aidan O'Reilly reprises his role as Fred, the nephew of Scrooge and Natasha Solomon, Dennis Henry, Kelley McKinnon, and Brandi Rhome play various roles in the Cratchit family/townsfolk, etc.

Following the show we sat in on the well-attended and informative Talk Back. Unfortunately, the crowd was so large that it was hard to hear the pre-show and interlude music even though I was sitting on stage. 

I will be seeing the show again the day after Christmas and look forward to seeing it again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The 12 Dates of Christmas by Ginna Hoben

Ginna Hoben in The 12 Dates of Christmas. Photo by Michael Bailey.
The 12 Dates of Christmas is a brand new show, written and performed by Ginna Hoben and directed by Jim Warren. The play is about a New York City based actor in her 30s, from Ohio (hmmm, sounds familiar) named Mary who loves the holidays until she sees her fiancee passionately kissing his co-worker during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. To further the humiliation, she sees the betrayal on national television while attending Thanksgiving dinner at her parent's house in Ohio and receives an alarming number of phone calls and texts about the said encounter. Well, she dumps said offender, deposits her engagement ring in a Salvation Army kettle, and proceeds to try to get on with her life. She's is set-up on a series of comically bad and bizarre dates by friends and family (you'll love the aunt) for the next year (some of which are based on real life, not necessarily Ginna's). I've heard Ginna say the play is kind of a poor man's "Sex in the City," but I think she shortchanges her play in that comparison, it stands more on its own than an imitation. It's a very original, entertaining, and happy night at the theatre.

Ginna is always strongest in comedic roles and she was definitely on top of her game on this night, aptly called "Ladies Night." The play is hilarious. I don't believe I've ever laughed as much (or as audibly) at the ASC as I did for this show. We were the only people sitting on stage and Ginna paid a lot of attention to us, which was great. Joining Ginna on stage were ASC Reckless Ecstasy touring troupe actors Brandi Rhome and Kelley McKinnon as the "Doo Wop Girls," who Ginna calls her "Greek Chorus." Daniel Jimenez, Aidan O'Reilly, and Jake Mahler provide pre-show entertainment, mostly Christmas music, but the show opens with a fantastic, haunting version of "Look at Miss Ohio." Ginna, Kelley, and Brandi (and a cameo by Jim Warren) held an informative "Talk Back" following the show with Ginna explaining the genesis of the show, inspirations, and her hopes for its future. Ginna's dream is that it can become a female answer to "Santaland Diaries." I think it's every bit as funny and much more original (in that it's really the only female centered Holiday play around). Frankly, more people (male & female) can identify with Mary's plight in "12 Dates" than Crumpet's in "Santaland."

If you enjoy a good laugh and a good story, don't miss "12 Dates" playing now through the end of the month.