Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
Also see Eddie review of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
With a shrug of his aging shoulder and a slight, twisted smile on a face that has spent a lifetime portraying many characters on local stages, Jim (as in Jim-1) awaits other cast members for the day's technical rehearsal of Dickens' A Christmas Carol while confiding in us, his own personal audience, for a few opening moments. That he is several decades too old to play the young clerk Bob Cratchit and that Jim-2 (now entering the scene) is likewise too young to play Scrooge are just two of the soon-to-be-mounting issues surrounding this portrayed production about to open in four days. Other actors (and even the company's founder) are just short of appalled that the Artistic Director, Fisher, has chosen this over-done standard which anyone older than six has probably already seen. What they do not yet know is that the local repertory company celebrating its twentieth anniversary is about to go under and needs desperately the same financial boost that ballet companies seek every year offering yet one more time the tried and true Nutcracker.
Appropriately entitled The Millionth Production of A Christmas Carol, this play by James Kopp receiving its world premiere production at Pear Theatre is on one level a love story to local (dare I say, community?) theatre companies. By the thousands across America in towns large and small, these troupes struggle to stay alive on budgets bare, often returning to Dickens or Shakespeare (as in A Midsummer Night's Dream) to bring in the occasional theatregoer so they can also offer to the few and faithful Chekov, Moliére, or some other more challenging fare. As the key actors of this Carol await a mysterious sound system issue to be remedied, the playwright Kopp (and appropriately so for this particular script, also director, actor, and designer of scenes, costumes, sound and lighting) has his players engage in rousing debates about the reasons for being an actor, what entails good and bad acting, the merits of Dickens' play and others like it, and the reasons audiences come (or not) to live theatre. And in this play about a play, there are of course romantic histories and intrigues popping up among the cast and staff, and personal dramas and stories to be relayed about everything from dead parents to a dead cat.
Oh, and there is The Ghost. What production of A Christmas Carol can succeed without one, especially one touted as "the millionth"? In this premiere, The Ghost (played by the playwright himself) is a studly, business-suited one that departs far from what Dickens probably had in mind.
For a local theatre like Pear to be mounting a world premiere by a local actor during the holiday season (when others are offering the real Carol or other perennially proven, holiday fare) is a brave, maybe some would say foolhardy move, as James Kopp's own play would suggest. Kudos go to the company and its recently retired Artistic Director, Diana Tasca, who made that decision as this season was shaped, and to its new one, Elizabeth Kruse Craig, for carrying it out.
That said, world premieres are risky and a gamble because they are often still works in progress; and The Millionth Production of A Christmas Carol is unfortunately no exception to that rule. The script's first half is mildly entertaining as the awaiting actors and creative team banter and bicker, cajole and cut up, fight and flirt. The half ends with a twist and turn that does send audience into intermission scratching heads and eager to see what happens next. The second act may very well exist to emphasize the undying commitment local theatre folks have to their craft (as in, the show must go on, no matter what), but the device employed is almost too much to swallow in its over-done melodrama. The resultalong with some uneven performances among a very determined and enthusiastic castis that The Millionth Production of A Christmas Carol may need the millionth-and-one outing in order to make it a more lasting offering in the fare of wonderful local theatres like Pear Theatre.
The Millionth Production of A Christmas Carol continues through December 17, 2017, at Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida, Mountain View CA. Tickets are available at www.thepear.org or by calling 650-254-1148.