“The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge” at Taproot Theatre

That unpleasant Mr. Scrooge evidently didn’t learn much when Marley and the Ghosts visited him so long ago and opened his eyes to the fact that he’d turned into a miserly, mean, unkind man. This play, directed by Scott Nolte, takes place some years after Scrooge’s encounter with Marley and the ghosts. We join Scrooge in court where he is suing those who tried to reform him.

Although he seemed to have learned his lesson that long ago Christmas Eve, he evidently fell back into his penurious, unkind ways. Now he wants to make those “do-gooders” pay for the emotional distress they caused him, not to mention that they broke into his home and kidnapped him. Does this not constitute a crime involving pain and suffering?

His case is heard in an elegant wood-paneled courtroom with handsome polished stone pillars separating the panels (designed by Mark Lund who also does the sound). Striking 18th C portraits line the wall above the paneling, and the judge (Steve Manning) sits magisterially far above the plaintive. The bailiff (Larry Albert), below and to the side of the judge is a delight as he scurries to the front of the stage and calls out in bellowing yet priggish voice each witness in turn. He gives the role a delightful panache.

Robert Gallaher provides a kind and gentle Bob Cratchit. He speaks well of his former boss, but under cross examination reveals that he had no real time off and that even on the coldest nights of the year only one coal was allowed for the office fire. Scrooge’s nephew reveals under testimony that his uncle refused invitations to festive dinners. The woman who sought funds for the needy testifies that Scrooge never gave anything. And so the testimony goes.

Nolan Palmer makes a wonderfully presumptuous Scrooge exhibiting outrage as he rebuts all the testimony. He did, after all, pay his taxes, he reminds the court. Then with barely repressed outrage, he calls attention to the fact that he was kidnapped. But things seem not to be going well for him. As each witness is called, the case against him grows. You’ll have to see it yourselves to learn how the trial ends.

One of the cleverest parts of the play is the wonderful way the playwright has incorporated Dickens’ own language within the script. This is a theatre piece that provides an unexpected yet delightful ending to Dickens’ dearly loved “A Christmas Carol. And this production does it full justice.

Through Dec. 30 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206-781-9705 or taproottheatre.org)

“Little Red Riding Hood” A Traditional English Christmas Panto

Dame Hood and young cast members

Dame Hood and young cast members

If I told you I went from downtown Seattle to Federal Way to go to the theatre you might well laugh and say, “Well that would be like going from Manhattan to the outskirts of New Jersey to see a show. Why on earth would you do it?”

I did it because I am enchanted by pantos, and Centerstage down in Federal Way seems to be the only theatre in this region presenting one each year. Pantos, the very popular Christmas entertainment in England, are traditional fairy tales complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters, and lots of audience participation. Children absolutely love them. Grownups come, even if they don’t have the excuse of children, because the shows are so entertaining, usually filled with double entendres and always, always charming.

In this “Little Red Riding Hood” written and directed by Vince Brady with music directed by David Duvall, two magical creatures—a good fairy (Trista Duval) and a malevolent witch (Olivia Lee)—open the show with the first instructions for audience participation. We are asked to greet each of them with particular sound effects whenever they appear on stage. Of course they are very busy throughout the performance. One tries to save Red Riding Hood from harm, and one seeks to make her life miserable.

Helen Martin as the red hooded young girl has many adventures before she meets and falls in love with her prince (Zack Summers). Meantime all manner of craziness ensues. Alan Bryce as the very large Dame Hood makes a somewhat naughty coquette who ventures into the audience to flirt with one of the male attendees. Dame Hood wears a blonde wig, and “she” goes for heavy rouge and eye shadow. “Her” numerous petticoats, while not exactly stylish, do stand out and add to “her” coquettish charm, and what a coquette “she” is!

Throughout the production there are droll, dumb jokes to delight the adults and silly mistakes to thrill the children. The three-year-old in front of me was so thoroughly enchanted by what he was seeing that his mother had to restrain him from running onto the stage at one point.

There are no Christmas trees or Christmas references in pantos. These shows are simply hilarious takes on traditional fairytales that provide holiday fun for people of all ages and all religious persuasions.

Through December 22 at Centerstage Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Rd., Federal Way, (253-661-1444 or centerstagetheatre.com).

ATCA SEATTLE THEATRE CRITICS WORKSHOP — JANUARY 20-22, 2017

TAKE NOTE ALL THEATRE CRITICS IN AND AROUND SEATTLE

On January 20-22, 2017, with assistance from the University of Washington School of Drama, The American Theatre Critics Association is sponsoring a workshop for drama critics in the Seattle/Portland region. Modeled after previous events held during the 1990s in several cities, the workshop will offer participating reviewers (who must have some experience writing about the arts/theater for print or Web) an opportunity to hone their writing skills with several coaches: Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times, Karen D’Souza of the San Jose Mercury, and Misha Berson, freelancer critic and former Seattle Times staffer. Participants will file overnight reviews of two Seattle stage productions, and receive one-on-one feedback on their copy from a coach. The workshop will also include forums and discussions about the practice of criticism and the various aspects of being a theater critic in Seattle at this time of media flux.

There will be a modest charge to help ATCA defray expenses ($50/regular, $35/low income). The workshop will begin Friday night, Jan. 20 with a theater performance and reception, and continue on Saturday, Jan. 21 with sessions on the University of Washington campus and another performance in the city. On Sun., Jan. 22 there will be a continental breakfast and individual coaching sessions, ending in the early afternoon.

For more details, or if you would like to apply (space is very limited), please send an introductory email and links to your review clips to the workshop coordinator: ATCA member Misha Berson, at mishaberson@comcast.net Please let us know if you are currently reviewing for any website or publication. Deadline for applying is Jan. 3, 2017.

“Treasure Island” presented by Book-It

Loud, loud and lively, very loud and lively. Book-It’s “Treasure Island” includes an energetic, quite good cast who play out their roles in blaring voice on a fine set, but if you are not a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic children’s book, “Treasure Island,” this may not be the production for you.

It’s the quintessential adventure novel for young boys, popular since the late 19th Century. The story centers on Jim Hawkins, an innkeeper’s son on the coast of England. Sailors both good and evil frequent the inn, and much to his delight, Jim winds up on a sailing ship bound for a mysterious island in the South Seas where a found map suggests there’s buried treasure. What a voyage: pirates, Long John Silver, mutiny, cannons, the treasure island itself, its hidden map, pitched battles on shipboard as well as land, wounds, deaths, skullduggery, and even a happy ending for some (including Jim).

Bryan Burch created, the adaptation, and Director Corey McDaniel has assembled a good cast and a wonderful production crew. Overwhelming the stage is the deck of a sailing ship whose huge mast rises to the rafters. We, the audience can never lose sight of that ship, yet Director Corey McDaniel has cleverly set his action on and around the massive vessel, be it in the wharf-side inn run by the mother of our hero, Jim Hawkins, or on the treasure island itself. Christopher Mumaw gets credit for this stage set which is even more effective with Evan Anderson’s clever lighting.

Alex Silva plays Young Jim Hawkins with panache. He evinces all the awe, fright, and bravado that make Jim such a favorite of readers young and old. And, of course, what would “Treasure Island” be without a captivating but fearsome Long John Silver? Geoffrey Simmons gives him all the bravado the part demands.

So, if swashbuckling stories delight you, this will be most satisfying. But be warned: it’s very loud.

Through December 24 by Book-It at the Center Theatre in the Armory. Seattle Center, Seattle, (206-216-0833 or www.book-it.org).

“Peter and the Starcatcher” at Art West

We all know the story of Peter Pan, but do we know where he came from, what his background was? Arts West’s latest show provides that history. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, this Tony award-winning play by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker provides all the answers, and does so with élan.

The year is 1885, Peter and his fellow boys, having been sold to a merchant captain, are on their way to a sad end when their ship, the “Neverland,” encounters a terrible storm. Also on the ship is Molly, a remarkable young girl whose father, on another ship, is on a mission for the Queen involving a trunk filled with treasure and a decoy trunk filled with sand. Of course, the trunks get switched, the ship sinks, and the characters must swim to land.

If that sounds convoluted it is. There are a few too many plot complications in this play. They include pirates, double crosses, switched identities, magical amulets, unkind sailors, a cruel captain, heroic acts, mermaids, an enchanted grotto, magic dust, and so much more, but the cleverness of the production and the vitality of the cast make one forgive the surfeit and just let the details sail by.

It all plays out on a set created by Julia Welch that is itself enchanting, especially bathed in the clever lighting by Tristan Roberson. Huge numbers of ragged cloth streamers that appear to be tie-dyed are suspended from metal poles. “So what’s special about that?” you might ask. Let me tell you that at various times during the play the cast hoists those bedecked poles and attaches them overhead to create fantastical, magical effects as the cloths flutter above the players. It’s a clever theatrical devise.

The play is rich with other interesting features There’s delightful wordplay, lots of charming silliness, and physical humor. Yet there’s also a moral. Bonds of friendship and love are shown to triumph over greed.

The marvelous effects and charming music (directed here by Rob Scherzer and Eric Ankrim) makes it appropriate for both adults and children 10 and up.

Through Dec. 23, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206-938-0963 or artswest.org)