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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Circus Christmas Carol
The stream-lined adaptation by Doris Baizley was performed by the Mark Taper Forum for five seasons in the 1970s but desai has made it a play within a play performed by jugglers, acrobats, stiltwalkers and giant puppets. They’re also very fine actors and the framing device of letting them pull bright costumes out of a shabby trunk nd struggle to replace Tiny Tim with the prop boy and Scrooge with the grumpy stage manager reminds us of the travails Dickens and his people endured in Victorian London.
As well as portraying characters and acrobats, the cast also plays the furniture. The prop boy waves a sheer fabric fog, a girl makes fire out of silken scarves, actors are doorbells, doors and squeaky gates. My hat is particularly off to the girl who plays Bob Cratchit’s desk and bravely holds her legs straight up through several long scenes.
Among the most colorful and charming creative touches are Ali Baba (Mark Bedard) and Robinson Crusoe’s Parrott (Madeleine Falk), characters in the books in which the young Ebenezer sought refuge when left alone at school over the holidays. They symbolize the fantasy and imagination that Ebenezer sacrificed in his career path to money and ambition. One misses his sister Fanny, one of the novel’s most poignant characters, who rescued him from that lonely holiday and died young, after giving birth to his nephew Fred.
As The Director/Ringmaster, Paul Clausen prompts the Stage Manager, newly elevated to Scrooge, but it doesn’t take long before he’s off and running. Frank Simons grounds the production with a Scrooge who looks like Lionel Barrymore and segues vividly from his early framing role as Stage Manager through the suffering miser years to his joyful epiphany on Christmas morning.
Other cast members play multiple roles, headed by Paul Clausen as a dashing Ringmaster, melodramatic Marley and truly moving Bob Cratchit. Ciro Barbaro’s fine voice augments his role as Fezziwig and Holly Jeanne brings robust humor to Mrs. Fezziwig and the Charitable Woman. Rachel Rawlins Prescott has a clear magical voice as Christmas Past and lends warmth and charm to Mrs. Cratchit. Madeleine Falk is a colorful and disdainful Crusoe’s Parrott and an enchanting Snow Queen stalking delicately on stilts. Chris Fore and Sarah Girard sing beautifully, adding resonance to Fred and Mrs. Fred. Mark Bedard makes a striking sinuous Ali Baba and Ian Phillips shows range, alternating a wheedling Prop Boy with a wistful stoic Tiny Tim.
The gifted Tom Buderwitz contributes outstanding set designs, combining a red-striped circus tent with simple.portable props which reinforce the traveling troupe concept. Brian Paul Mendoza’s choreography combines fluidly with Madeleine Falk’s contribution as circus consultant.
It’s easy to believe Charles Dickens, who loved theater, would have approved seeing his Carol extended by the skills of acrobats and reinforced as a storyteller’s story.