Review of A Christmas Carol

Review of A Christmas Carol-attachment0

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 info@montfordparkplayers.org.
Free Parking across Woodfin Street at Home Trust Bank.

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14 thoughts on “Review of A Christmas Carol

  1. Jason

    The backdrops at the Masonic Temple are indeed exquisite, but there were none that were appropriate for this production, since most of them are depictions of idyllic landscapes, cavernous spaces, and ancient ruins.

    I agree with you about the carpet.

  2. homeschoolmom15

    Dear Ms Delvecchio-Gray- I was under the impression that the point of a local amateur theater critic coming to a community theater performance was to encourage other folks in the community to come to the show as well. It seems to me that you had a axe to grind with everything about this show- and it is so unfortunate that you came with such a negative attitude- because I think it would have been basically impossible to please you. Your commentary focused so much on your unhappiness with the location and its’ attributes, however, as a supposed supporter of the arts in this area, one would think that instead you would have chosen to point out the creativity and dedication it took, as well as the phenomenal collaboration between two iconic Asheville instutions, The Mason’s and The Montford Park Players, to work together in tough financial times, to find a solution that works to help both groups to survive and thrive. One might also encourage you to remember that this show is entirely done by volunteers, whose love of the theater gives them the impetus to give of their time, energy and talent. I think your inaccurate review may be more a commentary on your character. This show has a magical quality which makes it more than worth coming out to see, and I hope that supporters of the arts in this area will realize that anyone who chooses to so negatively comment on a community theater production may have ulterior motives.

  3. Joseph

    Lucia was not that critical of the show, but of the script and the set. This might be reasonable, yes? She liked the costumes. She highlighted several performances. She was disappointed by a lack of a satisfying journey for Scrooge, which is a reasonable claim. This is perhaps all too common nowadays with productions of this show, as though the adaptation doesn’t need to serve the story to its height because the story is so well-known already. While Jason’s comment indicates Lucia didn’t have a full understanding of the space’s backdrops, that doesn’t necessarily mean Lucia is wrong to wonder why other set dressing was not included. The venue is indeed odd. It is quite nice that Montford Park Players and the Masons have formed a long-term agreement for performances, but this does not mean we need to abstain from any helpful criticism at all. Lucia’s review is not as negative as homeschoolmom15 suggests. If we are going to say nice things about a show because we feel we have to, clearly we need not review them because we’re not giving critical feedback.

  4. audience member

    I have very much enjoyed reading the reviews posted by Lucia, John and Steve. I don’t always agree with them but the writing is always enjoyable and well thought out. Lord knows it was like pulling teeth to get reviewers to come to any show in the past. One must wonder though if it may be time for these talented writers to excuse themselves from their duties due to their direct ties with the newly opened Magnetic Field theatre. I do not mean to imply any bias on their part. However, I do think there certainly may be a perception of bias. We don’t see Charlie Flynn-McIver, Susan Harper or John Russell reviewing shows, nor should we. I hope the XPress might see fit to open up the reviewing process to another group of people and hopefully they will be as up to the task as Samuels, Crutchfield and Del Vecchio Gray.

  5. Asheville Actor

    I don’t really understand the basis for you comment, homeschoolmom.

    The point of a critic going to a show is to critique it, not to encourage people to come. And, having read Ms. Del Vecchio Gray’s very positive review of Montford’s recent Twelfth Night production, the accusation of ulterior motives falls flat…

  6. John Crutchfield

    Homeschoolmom15, I understand how hard it is not to get one’s hackles up when a critic points out the weaknesses of a show one loves or feels personally invested in. (Imagine how it feels when a show you’ve WRITTEN gets slammed!) But Lucia’s review is actually pretty well-balanced, in my opinion. And it’s certainly free of anything that would qualify as axe-grinding–which, believe you me, is a fearsome sight, and something I hope Sightlines never condones. Be that as it may, I feel a couple of your remarks require correction: 1) Lucia is not an amateur critic, but a paid professional; and 2) the professional critic’s responsibility is not to promote a show, but to offer an honest and informed critique of it. You may disagree with Lucia’s assessment (clearly you do), but I’m not sure how impugning her character advances the discussion.

  7. Harrycarrieokie

    Even “mere” community theater deserves to grow through constructive criticism, just as the community in which it resides deserves self-challenging performing arts that reach high and exhibit the greatest possible *depth of thought in how best to tell the stories* we so cherish and need to have shared – and repeated – on our stages.

    Ms Delvecchio-Gray’s strongest sentiment about the production was not an attack on any actor, or the venue, or anything in fact – but indeed was a sincere wish that the script itself had been adapted so as to provide more of an opportunity for the lead actor to demonstrably undergo the soul-searching transformation as the main character that is the heart of this well-known story.

    As a performing artist and writer in town, I not only hope for, but demand that other writers, performers and directors treat their own work with as much respect as they imagine high-profile, successful acts likely do. That means being “critical thinkers” regarding their own work.

    I also demand that reviewers accurately describe for me as a reader/audience member all that works or does not work in a given production, and be thoughtful and respectful in how they communicate this, which Ms Delvecchio-Gray has quite artfully – and respectfully – done.

    If I were to *blindly* support every single community event (arts related or otherwise) in town, especially in this economy, I’d be penniless (which I practically already am, as a fellow artist). I need to trust that publications like this one will genuinely inform me as to how to understand and compare the subtleties one one production against others.

    If you want a puff piece, there are other publications in town you surely already know to turn to for barely-edited press releases masquerading as remotely critical or journalistic writing.

    If we all shrug and say, “well, what do you want?we’re only a small city in North Carolina, beggars can’t be choosers” you’ve giving up on any artistic (or community) standards. There’s great stuff happening in Asheville for many different audiences. “A Christmas Carol” will likely thrill and delight the audience that the company has firmnly established (who are not likely to be swayed one way or the other by this or any review). Many of us however, rely on bona fide critiques that are detailed, insightful and above all – “critial” by definition, to help us decide how to spend what little we have, on something that we can not only relate to – but to be inspired to “reach” for ourselves.

  8. Lucia Del Vecchio Gray

    I’m interested in responding to Audience Member’s comment about myself, Crutchfield, and Samuels perhaps taking a step back due to our ties with The Magnetic Field. Samuels will likely be taking a step back with reviewing as his artistic director position is very time-consuming, and he is obviously involved in each show The Magnetic Theatre produces. Crutchfield and I, as artistic associates, are not necessarily involved with each show. That being said, none of the three of us will be reviewing any MF shows, and MtnX has already brought in one new reviewer (Dane Cook) to review MF’s first show, and another new reviewer is set to debut in the next month or so.

    Those interested in reviewing are always open to contact our editors about participating in the project. I believe that John Russell, Susan Harper, and Charlie Flynn-McIver are not interested in reviewing- if they were, we would be totally excited and open to having them contribute. I appreciate Audience Member’s statement “I do not mean to imply any bias on their part. However, I do think there certainly may be a perception of bias.” You’re probably right. However, this perception is faulty in my eyes. I can never see the logic behind it. Why would any theatre practitioner in Asheville want to do anything to unfairly deter theatre attendance in this town? I know personally I am working very hard to be as fair, conscientious, and objective as possible, and support everyone, both with praise and constructive criticism. The theatre groups here are not in competition with each other any more than all the many restaurants in our town are in competition with each other. Because Tingles Cafe is open across the street from Over Easy doesn’t mean one of them has to stop serving breakfast. Why would it be any different with theatre? I wish to continue reviewing, and also would love any other new voices who are interested in contributing to get in touch with us.

  9. Rebecca Sulock

    Good discussion, all. I’d love to hear more from folks who are interested in getting involved with Sightlines, from offering ideas and suggestions to becoming an active reviewer.

    My e-mail is rsulock@mountainx.com. Drop a line!

  10. First, I’d like to commend Lucia for her very professional review of A Christmas Carol. I agree, we are interested in serious constructive criticism, and are open and welcoming of all comments.

    Second, I can state positively that absolutely no one would want me to review anything, because I am about as qualified to be a reviewer as I am to be a rocket scientist. What I do best is get butts in seats, and every good theatre already has someone like me in place.

  11. sharkbear.org

    For the record, Uwe Boll just challenges his critics to boxing matches. It seems like it would be more cathartic for everyone here.

    …and my award winning blog is not sufficent to link to in this forum? Granted it’s been mostly brownie recipes for the past 8 years, but still…

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