"A Christmas Carol" December 1984
By Charles Dickens, Directed by Gloria Ingram & Ray Phillips
From The Daily World, Sunday, December 16, 1984
Like Christmas itself, "A Christmas Carol" never seems to grow old. Year after year, the miserly Scrooge's Christmas visions shudder or shine with the same impact, and his character transformation inspires the same happy relief and wonder.
So a three-generation audience Friday night could applaud the Driftwood Players' latest -- and perhaps -- best -- dramatization of the Dickens classic with all the enthusiasm that greeted the first production some five years ago.
Ernie Ingram again plays Scrooge, seemingly making the old man a bit softer, but getting the same emotional effect from his remorse and repentance. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
Craig Griffiths is a fully convincing man of good will in the role of Scrooge's clerk, Bob Cratchit; Rebecca Colwell is a most appealing Tiny Tim. There must be a limit to the number of times a grown-old adult can weep at Tiny Tim's supposed death, but we haven't yet reached it.
Gary Morean has two effective roles, Scrooge's good-natured nephew Fred, and the Second Spirit. Nina Morean again is the ethereal but unrelenting First Spirit, and her exit in a puff of smoke is an effective addition to the play's bag of tricks.
Jim Ball is horrible as Marley's ghost, which is good, because he's supposed to be. Jack and Jonnel Arthaud, brother and sister, are quite touching as young Scrooge and his sister.
The Driftwood cast does justice to the large variety of Dickensian characters: Pat Stevenson as jolly Mrs. Fezziwig and also as a cackly corpse-robber; Marla Svoboda as Mrs. Cratchit; Veronica Brakus as Scrooge's one-time sweetheart, (and a death-watch ghoul); Joey Kruft in three roles, an undertaker, one of the Crachits, and a friend of Scrooge's youth.
Andrea Link plays Martha Cratchit; Leah Raynes, Patrick Connor and David Quigg are the remaining Cratchits. Jim Palmer, Carol Merritt, Brodie Smith, Paige Thompson and Jennifer Downs play the Fezziwig family.
Jim Welch is young Scrooge's imaginary Ali Baba, and in another scene towers impressively as the eight-feet-tall Third Spirit. Ken McDonald and Bobbee Downs play a charity-minded couple; Sheryl Murray is Fred's young wife.
In other small roles are Conan Griffiths, Karie Svoboda, Ron Soderberg, Lorie Alkire, Gerald Powers, Frances Bigler, and Quinn Radford. Tina Kruft, Stella Merritt, Karen Fraser, Kristi Adams, Cindy Shinn and Heather Colwell are carolers.
From The Daily World, Sunday, December 16, 1984
The darkness yields to dim lights as a lamplighter in 1840s dress ignites a gas street lamp. Fog seeps eerily along the gray paving stones of a narrow London street. A man in a patched black swallow-tail coat enters a barren office under the sign "Scrooge & Marley's Counting-house."
We are back in the world of "A Christmas Carol," the Charles Dickens short story that gave to history Scrooge, the quintessential stingy millionaire; Tiny Tim, the epitome of selfless cheer in the face of adversity, and Bah-Humbug!
The Driftwood Players have re-created this world in their Playhouse on Third Street in Aberdeen, and everyone who didn't visit it Friday night or last night will have an opportunity to do so at 8:15 tonight, next Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 2:15 Sunday, Dec. 23.
The audience will see only the thirty-some actors who bring alive the Christmas spirit to transform selfishness and misery into generosity and joy. But behind those scenes are a score more of workers who are as important as the actors in creating the illusion of which the audience will become a part.
The fog, for instance. It curls in ghostly fingers around the bed from which Scrooge springs in fright as he is visited first by his dead partner, Jacob Marley, and then by Spirits who take him backward and forward in time. It provides the eerie transition from reality to nightmare and back again, from past to present to future.
It didn't just happen, of course. Backstage, out of sight behind the "wall" of Scrooge's office, sets a machine that looks like an overgrown shop vacuum cleaner, with flexible white plastic tubes leading to three or more small openings in the set wall.
This machine creates "fog" out of dry ice (which is not cheap, costing about $26 per performance), Operating levers that direct the fog into the proper location at the proper time is a dark-haired man in a Cosmopolis Fire Department jacket, Joe Kruft.
He is wearing earphones and a speaker, so that he can communicate with the person who will be "cueing in" the fog and other sounds and special effects for which he is responsible.
These include a sort of explosion involving the First Spirit, Nina Morean, which inspires some interesting dressing-room conversation between her and Kruft at rehearsal a few nights before the opening performance.
Kruft: I'm building the detonator at home. Ernie (Ingram, Nina's father, who plays Scrooge) just told me last night that he wanted it.
Morean: (apprehensively) Will I catch on fire? Will I burn?
Kruft: Don't ask me, ask your dad. He's fixing up the dynamite, I'm just building the detonator.
When Jacob Marley appears to his former partner dripping chains, cash-boxes and the shreds of his burial shroud, he (Jim Ball) has earned his ghastly-white pallor and deaths-head grin by sitting in a tipped-back chair for 1½ hours while Gary Morean (who plays three roles on stage in addition to doing makeup) creates a picture of living death on his face.
Not only that, "Marley" has to wear more chains than Mr. T, and they can't be lightweight because unless they're heavy, they don't swing right on stage.
For the same reason, Pat Stevenson, playing a grave-robber, has to use heavy cloth, rather than light newspapers, to stuff the long gray sack in which she carries her loot.
The Christmas-card snow that drifts lightly down on London town owes its creation not to nature but to play director Gloria Ingram and her assistant, Ray Phillips.
The "snow" itself is styrofoam, shredded into tiny pieces in Mrs. Ingram's Cuisinart. It falls when a stage hand behind the scenes pulls the "trigger" that up-ends a long line of little cups installed behind the first bank of lights high above the stage apron. The device was developed by Phillips.
Much of the magic comes from the wardrobe room, where 1800s costumes hang in rows, each labeled with the name of the actor who is to wear it. More transformations take place under the bright lights of the makeup room.
Jack Shrauger is responsible for the gaslights that come on at the touch of the lamplighter's "torch," the light-and-dark "curtains" that signal scene changes, and various other supernatural lighting effects. He does it all by remote control, from the lighting booth above and behind the audience.
The power behind the tombstone that rises from the "earth" in the final scene of Scrooge's vision is Tina Kruft, who crawls under the stage and waits for the proper moment.
So you see, dear readers, all is not as it seems in the play that typifies more than any other the transformations that can be brought about by love of one's fellow man.
But as the carols die away and the last snowflake drifts gently onto the stage, and the audience leaves glowing with the power of Christmas spirit, what could seem more real?
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