A Christmas Tale For All Seasons
By Stacy Davies
The most famous of all Christmastime tales comes once again to Chino’s Seventh Street Theatre, and for traditionalists, it should be a pleasing sight. Directed by Tom Kirkpatrick, Chino’s Community Theatre manages to put together an enjoyable show—on the community theatre level. That means, of course, no swerving off the standard Dickens tale, and no enhancements—not even any paranormal special effects that some productions employ such as spooky smoke or strobe lights. While you won’t find any of that here, you will find some rather fine acting on most counts and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from both the actors and their audience to have a ripping good time. And they do.
Howard S. Wilson, who embodies Scrooge for the tenth time, is spot-on, obviously having worked this character into his marrow over the years. Mark Evans as Bob Cratchit is a sympathetic and worthy counterpart to Scrooge’s venom, and Bob and Connie Bell kick the whole production into frantic high-gear whenever they don the stage as the Fezziwigs. Jeff Deards is an excellently creepy Marley, his bellowing voice conveying the apparition more than any finery of chains, and Deards’ daughter Lauren is a lovely vision of Belle, the heart to whom Scrooge lost in his youth.
If it sounds like a real family affair, it is (the Daniels clan are in attendance, too), and I found the Deards to be particularly noteworthy: not only are most of the family in the production, so is the ex Mrs. Deards—and the current one! This alone should convey the appropriate message of Dickens’ tale, and if it doesn’t then we can’t think of what does. Embracing one’s past, letting go of baggage and seizing the day is the ultimate mantra of Carol—that and a humanitarian kindness that lives in regions both religious and non.
For some reason, the very fact that Dickens’ 1843 tale is still being produced seems like the ultimate comfort—even if the play is considered run-of-the-mill holiday fare. And this just might be the reason to go see the live version instead of merely renting one of the many cinematic classics (the best of which is still a debate between the 1938 and 1951 versions). Seeing Carol up close and hearing the lines, unable to place them on pause or to fiddle with your coveted cell phone (a ban that many teenagers in the audience seemed to find as excruciating as heroin withdrawal), makes the message sink in just a little deeper perhaps, reminding us why this story is important and why it truly is timeless. If you answered “because times haven’t changed,” you get the prize turkey from the Poulterers shop.
Yes, these days we can all agree that there are far more Scrooges than Cratchits and it makes one wonder if the language of Scrooge—blaming the poor for their own misery, paying employees under wage so that monstrous profits can be turned, squirreling away money like a miser—seems all too familiar. Would being visited by three ghosts really make someone change—or would you need a few more? Hopefully, by just imagining such a horrific scenario, by just putting ourselves in Scrooge’s shoes for one moment and looking back at past missteps and more recent ones, maybe then his fictional transformation will resonate. You might even be able to turn fiction into reality. Dickens thought you could.
A Christmas Carol at Chino Community Theatre, 13123 Seventh St., Chino, (909) 590-1149; www.chinocommunitytheatre.org. Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sun., 2:30pm; call for $. Thru Dec. 16.