Monday, December 15, 2008

‘A Christmas Carol’ Comes Alive in Geauga


THOMPSON – Charles Dickens’ classic tale ‘A Christmas Carol’ is familiar to most as part of the Yuletide holiday season. This compelling story carries a message that is both meaningful and timeless. Against the backdrop of modern-day economic chaos, it demonstrates the everlasting value of kindness and gentility. But in eastern Geauga County, the classic parable took on new life when revived by local performers at the Thompson United Methodist Church.

Typically, Ebenezer Scrooge has been depicted as an exaggerated caricature of miserly disdain, when rendered on stage. Yet through the talented portrayal of Hap Howle, this character glowed with honest believability. Much insight was delivered into the formative process that shaped Scrooge’s penchant for business over all else. The resulting depiction of his loneliness in the midst of great financial means deepened the authenticity of Dickens’ work.

With a strange bit of theatrical magic, Howle helped the audience pity Scrooge, while loathing his indifference to the customs of Christmas.

In equal measure, Quincy Wheeler brought the late Jacob Marley to life with a level of passion and urgency that lifted the entire play. His intense performance brought some of the night’s loudest applause from those in attendance.

Interestingly, Wheeler seemed to draw on Michael Keaton’s phantasmagoric “Beetlejuice” for inspiration. The result was undeniably successful.

In contrast to Scrooge’s dutiful but flawed reliance on the capitalist ethic, Marley was offered up as a human sacrifice of sorts. His agony at having chosen a path toward self-alienation and spiritual ruin rang undeniably true. The similarity and contrast between these two characters underpinned the story with useful realism.

Angelina Huber appeared delicate and radiant as the Ghost of Christmas Past. She seemed to literally pluck Scrooge from his solitary mood, beginning a journey through scenes that were touching and evocative. Hearts ached as Belle Tennant, played by Nadia Wheeler, surrendered to the realization that Scrooge would never love her above financial gain. And a breathless moment transpired as Kyle Markgraf, in the role of Young Man Scrooge, turned away from love, forever.

Machia Wheeler and Liz Abrams brought earnestness and joy to the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cratchit. Their ability to carry this good-natured spirit throughout the play helped weave the progression of dramatic scenes into a useful tapestry.

Indeed, points of light were everywhere, in the cast.

The theatrical troupe was comprised of local residents from the Thompson area. As a team, they brought zest and zeal to the shared performance. Each helped make Dickens’ prose leap from the printed page, into reality.

Megan Webber summoned the sweetness of Fan, Scrooge’s younger sister, like a professional. Colin Simpson displayed courage as Fred, the nephew who diligently tried to think the best of his humbugging uncle. Betty Smith, as the cantankerous Mrs. Dilber, pilfered the main character’s bed curtains with humorous care.
Meanwhile, Pastor Harley Wheeler exuded confident mastery as the taunting Ghost of Christmas Present.

In the graveyard, at the tombstone of Ebenezer Scrooge, Kirk Fowler gave a chilling performance as the unspeaking Ghost of Christmas Future. This terminal moment of self-realization resonated powerfully with the audience.

Howle seemed to be channeling a weary soul on the precipice of judgement when he shouted: “I will change! I will change!”

As ever, Scrooge’s conversion came as a moment worthy of cheers and applause.
Dickens’ holiday tale was first published in 1843. It carried a message of social justice that was pointed and direct. He prefaced the text with a personal message that voiced his intentions: “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

The original book was one of a series that included “The Chimes,” “The Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life,” and “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.”
Visitors were delighted to see the play performed in a local setting, by members of their own community. It would have been difficult to choose a favorite from among the group of actors and actresses.

But at the end of this festive night, perhaps the one who most directly connected with those in attendance was Eden Wheeler, as the diminutive Cratchit child Tiny Tim.

Her youthful energy in delivering one of Dickens’ most memorable phrases, was intriguing.

“God bless us, everyone!”

Quincy Wheeler as Jacob Marley

(From left) Hap Howle as Scrooge and Angelina Huber as The Ghost of Christmas Past

(From left) Terry McDevitt and Jamie Ice as Businessman and Businesswoman

Megan Webber as Scrooge's sister, Fan

(From left) The Cratchit family prays while The Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge (in background) watch them intently

(from Left) The Ghost of Christmas Future directs Scrooge toward his grave

(From left) Liz Abrams as Mrs. Cratchit; Machia Wheeler as Bob Cratchit; Hap Howle as Scrooge

The cast of 'A Christmas Carol' at TUMC


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