BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL MEMORY at Creative Cauldron
Playwright Jennifer Clements re-imagines and re-frames A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens to be "vivid and meaningful to a contemporary audience." Set in modern times, A CHRISTMAS CAROL MEMORY tells the tale of a fragmented family coping with loss during the holidays. Written with the best of intentions, A CHRISTMAS CAROL MEMORY is (if nothing else) festive.
Charlotte, aka Charlie (a precocious Madeline Aldana) is an orphan, having lost her father in a car crash four months before Christmas. A composed child, she's found a new home with her eccentric Aunt Elizabeth (a zany Kathy Halenda) and Aunt Elizabeth's "friend," "Uncle" Len (Harv Lester). Straight-laced Aunt Ellen (Jennifer Pagnard) and her husband Uncle John (Will Mark Stevenson) and a variety of cousins and in-laws gather in the name of family unity and positivity to help Charlie celebrate her first Christmas without her parents. When Charlie discovers her Grandpa's (David Schmidt) puppets in a trunk in the attic, her aunts decide to re-enact A CHRISTMAS CAROL, just like they did when their father was alive.
All the actors play multiple roles. Grandpa (Schmidt) is an appropriately miserly Scrooge, the veritable ace up Creative Cauldron's sleeve. Uncle John (Stevenson) becomes an affable Bob Cratchit and Aunt Ellen (Pagnard) is his loving, demure wife, Mrs. Cratchit. Scrooge's nephew Fred (an ebullient, cheery Doug Robinson) is the biggest presence onstage. Fred's radiant wife Belle (Katie Culligan) rounds out the main cast of the traditional, if abridged, A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The A CHRISTMAS CAROL reenactment, hectic though it was, is the best, most festive aspect of the entire performance. Charlie plays no role in the family reenactment, which seems incongruous.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL is retold with Grandpa's puppets as the Ghosts. Resident Artistic Director and Scenic/Costume Designer Margie Jervis's puppets are larger than life. For me, there is no fault to be found in the design and execution of the puppets. Constance Meade is the dreamy, ethereal voice behind the angelic Ghost of Christmas Past, by far my favorite ghost.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL MEMORY would benefit from further work shopping. The intimate black box theatre at Creative Cauldron is an unforgiving space and every character slip and flubbed line makes an impression.
Director Laura Connors Hull stage direction relies heavily on imagination and miming. Stevenson's Bob Cratchit really commits to warming his hands at an imaginary one-coal fire. But not all attempts to mime or navigate the stage are so successful. There are moments when audience members were literally pushed aside to make room for an exchange between characters. Perhaps a production with twelve cast members was a bit ambitious for Creative Cauldron's intimate space.
Near the end of the play the audience is treated to a screaming match between Aunt Ellen and Aunt Elizabeth, all the more jarring because of how quickly it escalates; quite out of the blue. Thankfully, it also ends quickly. Charlie's story is unceremoniously sidelined.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL MEMORY is buoyed by its exceptional cast of young actors including Libby Brooke, Madeline Aldana, James Durham, Constance Meade and Arianna Vargas. Creative Cauldron's commitment to education and community is notable. Click the tickets link below for more information on post-show discussions with Director Laura Connors Hull, Playwright Jennifer Clements and Scenic/Costume Designer Margie Jervis.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL MEMORY runs through December 20, 2016 Creative Cauldron at 410S Maple Ave, Falls Church, VA 22046. For tickets call (703) 436-9948 or click here.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, no intermission
Warning: Heavy strobe lights and strobe effects
Photo Credit: Katie Culligan, Jennifer Pagnard, Will Mark Stevenson, Doug Robinson, David Schmidt; Photo Courtesy of Gary Mester.