The 34th Annual Montford Park Players production of A Christmas Carol, running in MPP’s new winter home at the Asheville Masonic Temple, kicks off a new chapter in the group’s history. This show is the first in their Montford on Broadway series, with two more plays produced in the temple before their regular outdoor season begins again in May. Typical of Christmas Carol productions, there are numerous adorable children, bustles and period dress, and a very tiny Tiny Tim.
The show begins as every Montford production does, with managing director John Russell’s endearingly enthusiastic curtain speech. The plot of A Christmas Carol is nearly as well-known as that other Christmas story (the one with the baby) but just in case, here’s a summation: Ebenezer Scrooge is a cranky old man who despises Christmas, and is visited by three ghosts (past, present, future) who show him why he should repent his holiday hating ways lest he die mocked and alone, and Scrooge awakens on Christmas Day a new, generou, and festive man.
This production of A Christmas Carol is choppier than most, and the pace doesn’t have the fluidity and grace that one comes to expect with a classic. It is not listed in the program which script adaptation was used or if it was created by the director Martin Cohn, but the responsibility lies solely on him regardless. Michael Vaniman, in his ninth year as Scrooge, doesn’t have much to work with in portraying the character arc, as Scrooge is more often than not simply left on the sidelines to watch scenes play out, and when we return to him he is abruptly transformed. As a result, Scrooge spent a lot of time looking befuddled. Additionally, transitions alternated between extremely quick with stagehands literally sprinting across the stage, to almost glacial. Granted, it was opening weekend, so perhaps some tightening in the pace will occur. Overall, the story of the play was obscured by the script’s choppiness and lack of demonstrable journey by its main character.
Some particular performances of note are Jim Slautich as an actually frightening Marley shroud in chains, Laura McKinney as the persevering Martha Cratchitt and Travis Lowe as a seriously jolly Ghost of Christmas Present. The show also boasts a Tiny Tim so cute that just being carried onstage was enough to elicit audible “aww”s from the audience. The costumes were well-designed and executed, and uniform in time period.
The Asheville Masonic Temple is an interesting venue for live theatre, as the seating arrangement and unelevated stage area looks obviously appropriate. However, there was something off-putting about the carpeted playing space and lack of backdrop, giving the show’s atmosphere an odd conference-room feel that detracted from the efforts of the cast and crew. The Masonic Temple supposedly has over 45 hand-painted early 20th century backdrops; one wonders if they were available or if there were any other scenic options, as the atmosphere of the production was lacking in visual interest.
Overall, the efforts of the Montford Park Players are always earnest and wholehearted, and they deserve their community’s support in the their efforts. It can only be hoped that they will be served with a stronger script and direction of Dickens’ classic in their 35th annual holiday production.
A Christmas Carol, directed by Martin Cohn at the Asheville Masonic Temple, 80 Broadway.
Shows Thursday through Sunday, through December 19. Performances Dec. 16, 17, and 18 at 7:30 pm. Matinees Saturday, Dec. 18; Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2:30 p.m. Special Performances: Thursday, Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m. – “Pay What We’re Worth Night.” Advance tickets online are $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, AAA members & adult students with ID and $6 for children under 18. Day of Show: $15 for adults, $12 for senior citizens, AAA members & adult students with ID, and $8 for children under 18.
AAA members discount: Select “AAA Member” rate from the order menu. Contact box office for details at 828-254-5146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Parking across Woodfin Street at Home Trust Bank.