The pieces were: “The Christmas Goose,” adapted by Rachel Czestler from “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Arthur Conan Doyle; “The Little Match Girl and the Prodigal Son,” adapted by Clayton Mortl from “The Little Match Girl,” by Hans Christian Andersen; and “Five Golden Rehearsals,” an original story by Rachel Czestler. We were interested to see how these worked out, since we had heard some news about the production and knew some of the actors had come on board to fill vacancies at very short notice. We were pleased to see that all of the young actors did very well with their parts, there were no detectable missed lines, and you could not tell that some had had only a week to rehearse.
“The Christmas Goose” was a very effective and compact adaptation of Conan Doyle’s story, which preserved the author’s dialog, containing some very famous Sherlock Holmes aphorisms. This story is one of Holmes’ more purely intellectual exercises, and that is where the fun is, since it is somewhat low on drama or action. Very nice performances by James Sullivan as Holmes, Nicholas Hightdudis as Watson, and Edward Cruz in the dual roles of Sgt. Lewis and Ryder.
“The Little Match Girl and the Prodigal Son,” adds an extensive frame to Andersen’s pathetic tale. The “Prodigal Son” of the title, Casimir, (Nicholas Hightdudis) in the confessional, gradually unfolds his anger, grief, and guilt regarding the death of his sister, Helena (Lusciana Gomez), the “little match girl.” The framing device made the story quite affecting, showing that callousness and shortsightedness are major causes of Helena’s death. That Casimir’s resentments include ethnic tensions between Irish, Polish, and Germanics (The play is set in 19th Century New York.) adds a dimension.
“Five Golden Rehearsals” gives us five vignettes from the rehearsal period of a new Christmas play, as produced by a small community theater group. In the process, the play morphs from a story about a playwright’s’ difficulty in writing a script (reflected by the actual struggles of writers Steven (Mr. Hightdudis) and Katherine (Emmah Gonzalez), to a pageant about unusual Christmas traditions, while the director (Brianna Sullivan) balances scarce resources, the demands of the local “diva” (Kate Warren), and the chorus’ preference for singing “Jingle Bells” ala Elvis. This was the longest play of the show, and quite funny (particularly for those of us with community theater experience--).
Overall, I was quite impressed with the production. Timing and cues were tight, and good use was made of the minimal set, kudos to producer/director Thom Zuehlke. The young cast exhibited impressive skill and ability, notably James Sullivan’s ability to muster four distinct accents (Holmes, Irish priest, Germanic mill owner, “Elvis”), Nicholas Hightdudis’ emotional agonies as the “prodigal son,” matched by Lusciana Gomez’ ecstatic transports as the “match girl,” and Brianna Sullivan’s controlling-but-coping director in “Five Golden Rehearsals.” Of course, there are the issues that one has to expect with a young cast, such as occasional enunciation and elocution problems, but these are things that can be overcome with time, and I would be glad to see any of these actors, or work by the playwrights, on stage again.
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