Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Bah Humbug: Covina Center for the Performing Arts rewrites Dickens

Frank Minano as Scrooge in his adaptation of A Christmas Carol


To tell you the truth, the best production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” I ever saw involved Patrick Stewart, a chair, a table and a book from which he read. The story itself proves so engrossing it is hard to find a reason to over-embellish it, even to draw crowds into a theater at holiday time. With its quick lesson on the need for compassion, the ugliness of greed and the concept that happiness is less about money than human connection, not to mention the description of Marley – one of the scariest ghost appearances in literature – Dickens has supplied everything.

This is a central reason why the version of this timeless tale at Covina Center for the Performing Arts proved so irritating. The new adaptation by Frank Minano decides to add to, and change, the Dickens original.

The padding is superfluous. Belle, the love of Scrooge’s young life, is followed into older age to show her as a shining example of humanity. We get to watch Marley die and Scrooge chuckle over the body as he signs the death certificate, making Scrooge pathologically cruel rather than Dickens’ myopic skinflint.

And, once “reborn,” Scrooge doesn’t supply a huge turkey for his clerk’s family’s feast. After bounding about his room like a madman, he arrives at the Cratchits, hands them the turkey for later, and invites them all to his nephew’s house for a Christmas party and dinner to which he alone has been invited – a clash of Britain’s stratified society and a burden on the same nephew he earlier points out has little money.

Minano doesn’t stop there. He also stars as Scrooge, and helps to direct, leaving no one but fellow director Hope Kaufman to rein in his star turn. Scrooge’s moments onstage stretch and stretch, and much of the last act is played in the same overemotional key. This is a pity, as from a production standpoint, discounting the lead and the padding of the script, this is a pretty good show.

Standouts in the huge cast include Jill Gerber as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Michael Buczynski as the suitably boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present, and Max Herzfeld as a particularly personable Fred. Also worthy of note are Brett Chapin as Bob Cratchit and Gehrig Baes as a satisfyingly unsaccharine Tiny Tim.

As always, carolers have been inserted into the drama, but here they are very good carolers and their songs are used to cover set changes. It works. The set, by Mark MacKenzie follows the CCPA tradition of making modular, multi-story creations which keep the set changes short and the segues smooth. The costuming by Linda Vick is fairly accurate, though someone should inform the men in the cast that Victorian gentlemen of Scrooge or Fred’s class almost never took off their coats in public, never at a party, and certainly not if they had – which they didn’t in those days – a vest with no back.

So, although this “A Christmas Carol” is fantastically overblown, it still has things to recommend it. Unfortunately, with the carols and the additional material, it is also long, and gets longer if Minano is really on a roll in the second act – a tough thing for the small children in the audience. In the end, my advice to any and all who choose to dramatize this famous short story is this: just tell the story. Really. Dickens knew his characters and his audience. Trust him.

What: “A Christmas Carol” When: Through December 18, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave. in Covina How Much: $28, VIP level $38 Info: (626) 331-8133 or http://www.covinacenter.com

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2 responses to “Bah Humbug: Covina Center for the Performing Arts rewrites Dickens

  1. Will December 20, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    You review tends to be more about your life and I feel I understand your “knowledge” about A Christmas Carol more then I understand about this particulate production. My advice to any and all who choose to review community theater is to leave the pronoun “I” out as much as possible and to make it more about the production than about the critic.

  2. Frances Baum Nicholson December 25, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    Thank you for your interest. I have discovered, from feedback received over my 30+ years of reviewing, that people wish a context for my reviews. From this they can decide whether what matters to me matters to them. I feel the same way, when I read a review. For example, there was a long-time film critic who often panned films I liked, yet when I discovered that his family had been lost in the Holocaust, and he could therefore never give a positive review to anything about the Nazis which portrayed them as anything other than psychopathic killers, it gave me a context from which to read his material.

    And since the major thing which was wrong with this show was its deviation from the original story – and the fact there were none of the usual filters, because the man who adapted it directed and starred in it, I felt that an indication of knowledge of the original was the base for my concern. If that issue is not an issue for you, then my contextual information does not matter to you, and that’s just fine. However, indicating what my own preferences are (as in using “I”) indicate that this matters to me, which is why I’m talking about it. Emotion, not always just scholarship, dictates one’s responses. The artificial use of that “one” when I mean “me” or “I” is a device I have generally done away with in such cases.

    Still, I appreciate your comment, because it made me go back and think about whether what I’m doing is intentional or not. I’m sorry you could not read through the context to get the meat of what I was saying. I will reread this and think about how to improve that aspect in future.

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