Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dickens by Candlelight


On December 14th I went to a dress rehearsal for Dickens by Candlelight at The Cross (1300 Brookhaven Drive Orlando FL). The Cross is in Ivanhoe Village and it is in a neighborhood of warehouses. When I arrived it was dark so I waited under a street lamp out front. After maybe ten minutes I saw a Prius pull into the parking lot next to the building and Terry Olson popped out and quickly rushed behind the building like the white rabbit. I followed, but when I rounded the corner he was gone. There was a small glass door at the back of the building and through it I could see a woman in turn of the century period dress. I entered the dark room.

John DiDonna who plays Scrooge had informed me about the rehearsal. Monica Long Tamborello and Robin Olson  played just about every other character in the Dickens tale, The Christmas Carol. This is the 16th anniversary year that Dickens By Candlelight has been performed in Orlando. Robin Olson who first wrote this adaptation is returning to the cast this year. Producer Kenneth Ingraham gave me tips on where I might catch the action in my sketch. Fewer people showed up than expected, and he suggested I sit closer but I was already committed to this sketch.

The warehouse doubles as a church and it turned out that the rehearsal was being staged for parishioners to thank them for letting the space be used for rehearsals.  Ben Hoyer and his family were the first to arrive. Ben is the founder of Credo Coffee Shop and he helped acquire this space for church use. As people arrived, the cast made their way back stage behind barn-like sliding doors. A bare branch was suspended from the ceiling with delicate golden ornaments hanging from it. Each table in the room had a red candle and tiny bells. At one point in the production everyone was encouraged to ring the bells then stop on cue.

The tale cleverly envelops the audience as the characters move through and around the guests who are seated at treat-laden tables.  The three talented Orlando actors, portray all of the roles and artfully transform themselves from character to character and stave to stave.  The best way to witness visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and  Future is while enjoying homemade cookies and a pot of freshly-brewed hot  tea.   Since there have been so many film adaptations of Dickens Christmas Carol, I expected to feel jaded. But the cast kept the story engaging and suspenseful. John DiDonna did an amazing job portraying Scrooges greed and then joyful redemption.

When it came time for the ghostly visits, the room was only illuminated by the flickering candles. Scrooge shouted in terror when the huge metal garage door rattled by forces unseen.  I suspect Terry Olson must have been outside rattling the doors on cue but the effect was ghostly and unnerving. This subtle use of sound and candlelight held more dramatic terror than any of today's special effects laden films. This is theater's magic as people gather together in a dark room to share a tale. Children huddled close in their parents arms. The costume changes were quick and numerous with every word save one having come from Dickens pen. Audience members became part of the action as they joined the cast in holiday celebrations.

I highly recommend this show to ring in your holiday season. Shows will be in the Patron's Room at the Orlando Shakespeare Center (812 E Rollins St, Orlando, FL). Tickets are $35 with group rates available.
Wednesday December 18, 8pm
Thursday December 19, 8pm
Friday December 20, 8pm
Saturday December 21 4pm and 8pm 
Sunday December 22, 4pm and 8pm
Monday December 23, 8pm

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