Left to right, Doug Graupman as Bob Cratchit, Alison and Curt Dodges as solicitors, and Rick Wathen as Scrooge. Photo courtesy of Phil Yee Hasanon.
La Plata, MD – A lovingly-crafted live-action “Christmas card” takes the stage at the Port Tobacco Players (PTP) theater, taking form as the dramatic presentation of Charles’ Dickens A Christmas Carol, adapted by Jerry Patch. This play is produced by special arrangement with Broadway Publishing, Inc., and in part by grants from the Charles County Arts Alliance, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Endearingly staged by Amy Wathen Cooksey, director and Patrick Pruitt, assistant director, and choreographed by Brooke Howells-Weiser, producer/choreographer, the play abounds with familiar holiday sentiments enacted by both veteran PTP performers and those new to the PTP stage. Many of the thespians portray more than one role throughout the evening, affording the actors multiple opportunities to display their skills. This production reunites the PTP team of Cooksey and Howells-Weiser, who last collaborated on It’s a Wonderful Life. Brooke directed and choreographed this past summer’s Monty Python’s Spamalot. Cooksey is an 18-year veteran of PTP. A Christmas Carol moves along at a brisk pace with smooth scene changes occurring almost instantaneously without breaking the flow of the drama.
A Christmas Carol runs at PTP from Nov. 27 through Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for seniors, youth and military. You may call 301-932-6819 or contact www.ptplayers.org for more information. The theater is located at 308 Charles Street in La Plata.
A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens, first published in London on December 19, 1843 to instant success. Dickens drew on humiliating experiences from his childhood (specifically, his conflicting feelings about his father), and his sympathy for the poor. The story featured old and new British Christmas traditions such as Christmas cards, Christmas trees, and carol-singing.
The novella has never been out of print and has been adapted over and over again for radio, film, stage and opera.
The PTP production opens with the strong, clear singing voice of Tessa Silvestro as she leads the chorus of street vendors onstage. The set is charmingly reminiscent of the wooden Cat’s Meow village figures, and within the hustle and bustle of London’s shopping district we are introduced to Thomas Shelley (Larry Silvestro, a veteran of PTP, the Newtowne Players, and Patuxent Playhouse). Ebenezer Scrooge (Rick Wathen, a PTP veteran of twenty-one shows) informs him that the rent is past due. A crestfallen Thomas protests that it’s Christmas Eve, but of course, this means nothing to Scrooge who threatens to evict Thomas and his family if the bill is not paid.
Scene two finds Scrooge working diligently at his desk alongside his faithful employee, Bob Cratchit (PTP veteran Doug Graupman). They are visited by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, who is played with appropriate youthful optimism by PTP veteran Austin Lockhart (he also plays Young Scrooge).
Solicitors Alison and Curt Dodges also stop in, requesting a donation for the poor. No matter how sweetly Ms. Dodges addresses Scrooge, he continues to refuse. (Both Mr. and Mrs. Dodges are PTP veterans and have both appeared in previous PTP A Christmas Carol productions). An off-stage clock ticks ominously and effectively throughout this scene, ending as Scrooge agrees to allow Bob to take Christmas Day off on the condition that he’ll come in to work two hours early on the following day and remain two hours later.
Ebenezer is tormented by “Bah! Humbug!” thoughts running through his mind as scene two segues back out onto the London street. Scrooge’s hallucinations continue as he thinks he sees his former, now-seven-years deceased partner, Jacob Marley, being transported through the streets in a wooden coffin. Upon arriving home, he is attended to by his perky maid, Mrs. Dilber (Alison Dodges), who pops up in surprising places. Once he is alone, he is visited by Marley’s Ghost, dragging the chains he forged in life. Keith Linville gives a chilling interpretation as Marley, complete with ghostly makeup and eerie echo effects. Mr. Linville reprises his PTP role here as Marley; as a PTP special effects designer, he also created the puppet effects for this show.
Graceful dancing, tumbling Spirits accompany the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Winsome, self-assured fourth-grader Amelia Dresser is the apparition who comes to awaken Scrooge’s humanity.
The young Ghost takes Ebenezer along on visits to scenes of his childhood. His loneliness at being left behind at school until his sister Fan comes to fetch him home is achingly apparent. (It is Fan’s child, Fred, who grows up as Scrooge’s nephew). Fan is played by Chloe Lateulere in this, her 11th PTP show. The delightful party scene features a beautifully costumed and enthusiastic chorus of guests – young and old -enjoying a holiday repast and a lively dance. Larry Silvestro appears in dual roles as Mr. Fezziwig/Thomas Shelley partnered with Carol Russell as Mrs. Fezziwig/Mrs. Shelley. Ms. Russell and Mr. Silvestro together make a striking onstage couple. The chorus freezes in place during the party allowing Scrooge and the Spirit time to reflect on his childhood.
Scrooge has a sweetheart – the sincere and lovely Belle (Isabella Biles in her third PTP show; she also plays Sally). Unfortunately, they part on sad terms; leaving Belle heartbroken and Scrooge emotionally distant. Belle realizes that Scrooge is tied to his work; money takes precedence in his life, even on the day of her father’s funeral. Scrooge commands the Spirit to leave him, and he finds himself alone in his bedchamber once more.
As this well-known tale continues to unfold, Scrooge is met by the Ghost of Christmas Present – the gloriously costumed Tessa Silvestro who displays her outstanding vocal projection and diction in a role she obviously enjoys.
This Ghost takes Ebenezer to visit the home of Bob Cratchit and his family. We are introduced to the ever-cheerful Tiny Tim, who rides upon his father’s shoulder, and his siblings Martha (Chloe Lateulere), Belinda (Faith Rothell, also cast as a tumbling spirit, and who is a PTP first-timer) and Peter (Nate Daetwyler in his first PTP role). As Mrs. Cratchit, Joanna Graupman (a 15-year veteran of community theatre) reveals a feisty, strong-willed Mrs. Cratchit who insists on including Mr. Scrooge in the family’s prayer of thanks while Tiny Tim chimes in to add, “God bless us, everyone” The strong characterizations of the real-life husband-and-wife team of Doug and Joanna Graupman contribute to the tight-knit bond of camaraderie between the Cratchit parents and their children, resulting in a convincing family portrait.
The Ghost of Christmas Present also shows Scrooge another party scene where nephew Fred mocks his penny-pinching uncle during a parlor game. As the guests depart caroling “Past Three O’clock,” Act I comes to an end.
Act II opens with the terrifying specter of the giant-sized and silent puppet, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, whose mission is to show Scrooge his own demise. He observes Mrs. Dilber selling off his possessions (which she has pilfered from his home) to the local street vendors. Mrs. Dilbert’s cronies include Lena (Tessa Silvestro) and the Toy Lady Vendor (Frankee Brown, who also plays a Charwoman). This Spirit shows Ebenezer the Cratchit family – now without Tiny Tim. An insistent, pulsating heartbeat soundtrack resounds throughout the theatre as the Spirit reveals the phantoms Ignorance and Want, and Scrooge’s own tombstone; the miserly curmudgeon collapses in anguish.
He awakes (as if from a dream?) in his own bedchamber, alone once again, vowing to dispel the gloomy images revealed to him by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Mr. Wathen shows a deft and exuberant sense of humor here as he jubilantly expresses his gratitude at being alive on Christmas morning.
Mr. Scrooge is so determined to spread good cheer on this day that he buys the biggest turkey at the local shop and gives a half-crown to the lad who fetches it for him and carries it to the Cratchit’s home. Lackey High School freshman Trey Jolly, also a PTP veteran, reacts to Scrooge’s personality change with verbal and non-verbal flair. On his way through the streets, Scrooge decides not to evict Thomas after all, and apologizes to those he meets for his past behavior while agreeing to donate to charity.
Mr. Wathen’s “Ring Out Wild Bells” speech is delivered at the Cratchit’s Christmas table with particular poignancy, and is followed with a rousing ensemble Wassail Toast and the joyous singing of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.
Adding their talents to the ensemble are fifth-grader and PTP veteran Camryn Ging (Lena’s Kid/Tumbling Ghost), seventh-grader Kristen Ging (Lena’s Kid/Tumbling Ghost) in her fourth PTP production; PTP veteran and St. Charles High School sophomore Davon Keys (Poulterer), seventh-grader and PTP veteran Gregory Pruitt (Joe) making his seventh PTP appearance, Robert Stinnett (Young Marley/Topper), a PTP veteran, Riccie Thrutchley (Undertaker/Man 2) and the ebullient Madelyn Mudd as Fezziwig’s Daughter.
Kudos to additional members of the Production Staff including Stage Manager Chris Cease, Assistant Stage Manager Kyle Rappe, Set Designers Ryan Mudd and Amy Cooksey, Set Construction Lead Ryan Mudd and his Crew Chris Magee and Gary Maynard, Scenic Painter Rick Wathen and cast, Set Decorator Amy Wathen Cooksey, Properties Manager Amanda Wegand, Light Designer Leslie Wanko, Light Operator Annie Lockhard, Sound Designer and Operator James D. Watson, Costume Designers Amy Cooksey, Carol Russell, and Laurie Mudd, Costume Crew members Brenda Mudd, Kathy Wathen, and Quentin Nash Sagers, Makeup and Hair Designer Jenn Branham, Makeup and Hair Crew Kaitlin Branham and cast, House Managers Christin Lockhart and Sue Lateulere, Music Box Master James D. Watson, Special Effects Designer Keith Linville, Headshots Photographer Laurie Mudd, Press Photographer Phil Hasanon, Program Designer Amy Wathen Cooksey, Logo Designer Donald Ely, Program Printer Quality Printers of Waldorf, and T-Shirts by Positive Graphics of White Plans.
Special thanks in the program were also extended to the volunteers who staff the Box Office and serve as ushers, to Peerless Technologies for the Ghost of Christmas Future, to Andrew McKnight for 3-D printing of Ignorance and Want, and to all the others who joined the production after the program went to print!
Next up at PTP: See How They Run, Hairspray, Rabbit Hole, and 1776. For ticket and audition information, you may visit www.ptplayers.org or you may call the box office at 301-932-6819. You may also purchase online tickets; and you may find PTP on Facebook.