Asheville's Montford Park Players, John Russell, Managing Director, is a troupe best known for summer outdoor productions. Happily now, they have found a winter home in the majestic Asheville Masonic Temple, a historic downtown structure which houses a small theater on its third floor. In this new partnership, the Players have expanded their season to a year-round production schedule known as "Montford on Broadway," while the Temple receives a portion of ticket sales for the renovation of the building which was begun in 1913 and occupied in 1915. The simultaneous promotion of both performing arts and historic site preservation has immeasurable community benefits and has proven successful elsewhere in Asheville as seen at St. Matthias Episcopal Church.
Inaugurating the first of three indoor productions (each to enjoy a two week run) is the company's 34th annual production of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale of sin and redemption. Director Martin Cohn has assembled a lively cast of nearly 40 actors to bring the script to life. The show utilizes a Spartan set with no backdrops and few props, changed at lightning speed. The lovely a cappella singing of Christmas carols furnished the transitions between scenes. The intimacy of the performance space, where the seating is two rows deep on the ground level and others tiered in the balcony, gives most of the audience close proximity to the action. The house was cold at curtain time, lending an air of authenticity to the chilly atmosphere of the early scene in Ebenezer Scrooge's offices.
Scrooge is played by Mike Vaniman, who has enjoyed the role for nine productions. It's clear that Vaniman knows the part well and delivers his lines easily. However, I found his character to be too mild-mannered for Dickens's crusty, tortured-souled curmudgeon. His delivery of lines suffered from a lack of dramatic range and often seemed to be muttered instead of roared/whispered/ entreated. When the Spirits show up and lay out the grim reality of what is in store for him, he doesn't register real fear so much as curiosity. We need to see him as a scoundrel writ large, so hated and feared that his redemption later on is even more powerfully moving.
Marley, played by Jim Slautich, was a truly arresting figure wrapped in chains along with his cash box and very scary, with his booming voice and dramatic gestures of doom toward Scrooge. Scrooge's nephew Fred was portrayed with real sweetness by Mike Coghlan. David Broshar and Kirstin Daniel were convincing as the loving Cratchit couple with their adorable brood, among them Graeme McKeon as Tiny Tim, who really looked the part. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Emmalie Handley) was a gorgeous apparition in a white gown; the handsome Ghost of Christmas Present (Travis Lowe) appeared bare-chested in a magnificent fur-trimmed robe and utilized a wonderfully sonorous, mocking laugh as he led Scrooge on his journey; and the Ghost of Christmas Future, a grim Reaper, mutely gestured toward Scrooge's sad fate if his life continued its course.
The stage direction made wonderful use of all available space, with lively comings and goings and a central party scene at the Fezziwig's home where the entire company danced and sang in merriment. The Charwoman (Laura Farmer) and Laundress (Elizabeth Hylton) who peddle Scrooge's garments and linens to Old Joe (Bob Foor) lent their own charm to their scene in comical, exaggerated Cockney accents. Particularly impressive was the acting of the younger members of the cast, notably Kaitlin Jencks as the narrator Wendy.
This production runs through December 19. For details, see our calendar.