Regional Reviews: Phoenix
It may be sunny with temperatures in the 60s during the day in Phoenix, but the warm weather doesn't mean the month of December is absent two classic holiday plays set in colder, snow-filled settings that have both become annual staples at two theatres in the Valley. For 18 years, Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert has presented the classic Charles Dickens' drama A Christmas Carol, while the more contemporary holiday comedy A Christmas Story makes its third annual appearance at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. Both productions feature beloved stories of redemption, drama, comedy, love between family members, and iconic scenes and imagesand each show makes for a fine holiday outing for families who are looking for something holiday-themed to do while also adhering to appropriate COVID safety protocols.
Ted Lehman's adaptation is quite faithful to Dickens' novel, even using many actual lines of dialogue from the book, and the script and direction don't rush the important scenes, letting them play out realistically, adding to the emotional impact of the story. The cast is slightly reduced this year, due to safety factors, but the strength of Dickens' prose and the addition of several Christmas carols sprinkled throughout ensures a lovely, heartfelt, and impactful production.
The production is double cast, and the night I attended the "Green" cast was performing, led by Rob Stuart as Scrooge, who makes a wonderful impression as the gruff, heartless man whose eyes are opened by the visits of the ghosts. As the story progresses, and the ice slowly melts around Scrooge's cold heart, Stuart's nuanced portrayal beautifully echoes the changes in the character. Bryan N. Stewart is equally as good as Scrooge's put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit, infusing the part with an abundance of warmth and love for his family and his fellow man, even Scrooge. Stewart's moving performance of a portion of "What Child Is This?" is stunning in its simplicity.
As the ghosts who visit Scrooge, Jere Van Patten infuses Marley, Scrooge's former business partner, with a keen sense of urgency and an acute awareness of his past sins, while both Ellie Barrett and Taylor Hudson add touches of honesty and humor to the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present, appropriately. David Michael Paul, Alaina Beauloye, Kyle Webb, Jared Kitch, and Juli Gore shine in numerous supporting roles.
The play is a series of vignettes that follow the story of young Ralphie Parker and his relentless struggle through a series of disappointments to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, even though he is continually told that he'll shoot his eye out. Grecian's adaptation follows the plot of the film fairly closely and includes many of the well-known scenes and the often-quoted phrases from the movie.
Director KatieBelle Collins does a fairly good job in staging the action across the vast expanse of the large Desert Stages' mainstage spacethe show was performed the past two seasons on their smaller Actor's Café stage but has been moved to the larger space to allow for socially distanced seating. However, not all of the cast has the appropriate comic timing to ensure every humorous bit lands, and some could do a better job in providing more variation in their line delivery and more nuance in their portrayals so their characters aren't occasionally lost amongst the rest of the cast.
Bobby Havens has a twinkle in his eye and an even-measured line delivery that provides warmth and charm as the adult Ralph, who narrates the story, and he plays a few small supporting characters. Roy Thielen is fine as Ralph's father, though it would be nice to see a more heightened sense of frustration in his portrayal. Annemarie Mulligan is quite good as the overburdened mother and, while Charlie Budd is suitable as Ralphie, he should slow down on his line delivery and enunciate more as some of his dialogue gets lost.
As Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields, Lynn Golden has the perfect frenzied delivery to create a memorable character. The kids in the cast (Grady Mulligan, Jacob Toren, Kenny Kaczmarek, Claire M. Theodore, Mira Karve, Xander Zeeb) are all very good as Ralphie's friends (and his main foe).
The set design by Tinkering Squid LLC uses photo and video projections along with fun sound effects to add an additional layer of whimsy to the production, especially for the fantasy sequences. The costumes by Mickey Courtney are period appropriate and colorful.
While there are some shortcomings in this production, it still makes for a fun rehash of the memorable comic scenes for fans of the film while also providing a humorous and touching story of a small-town family and the many comical dilemmas they face for those who've never seen the film.
Both Hale and Desert Stages have implemented many safety protocols, in line with both city and state requirements, including limiting the audience capacity, socially distanced seating, and requiring masks from all audience members. A list of all safety requirements can be found on their respective websites.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 26, 2020, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein
A Christmas Story runs through December 20, 2020, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre at Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets and information are available at desertstages.org and at 480-483-1664.
Director: KatieBelle Collins