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by David McGillivray and
Walter Zerlin, Jr.
Pacific Theatre
1440 W.12th Av.
December 2-January 1

Talk about low expectations.  Here’s a play about an amateur theatre company performing a terrible production of A Christmas Carol.  Pacific Theatre’s artistic director himself calls it, in the program, “a really dumb play with absolutely no redeeming value.”  And Pacific Theatre’s stage is in a church basement, no less!

I can tell you from experience, there are few things worse than watching a cheesy, amateurish production of a play about cheesy amateur theatre. Bad actors doing bad acting badly.  Stupid sight gags eliciting gales of silence.

I can also tell you that The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Production of A Christmas Carol—its full title—had me howling with laughter.  This turns out to be one fabulously funny dumb play, done with great comic skill and endless imagination by talented professionals.

The Farndale…Christmas Carol is the eighth in a series by Englishmen David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin, Jr. about this fictional group of theatrically keen but utterly inept Englishwomen, who have taken on everything from Macbeth to The Mikado.  Here they massacre the Dickens classic in just about every way imaginable—and more.

Mrs. Reece (Erla Faye Forsyth) is one of those bossy, energetic, Pythonesque ladies with a ubiquitous red patent handbag. She kibbitzes with the audience, orchestrates the charades that end the evening, and specializes, among various roles, in Tiny Tim with a unique limp.

Thelma (Trish Pattenden), as Scrooge, has little patience for the bumbling of the others, especially the sole man in the company, the hapless, clueless Gordon (a hilarious Kyle Rideout). An exchange between them where he, as Marley’s ghost, gets his head caught in a hole in a door, then can’t figure out his lines, is a comic classic.  He’s also remarkably terrible—and terribly funny—as Mrs. Cratchit, whose attempt to lay Tiny Tim’s crutch on his gravestone had me absolutely corpsed.

Mercedes (Julia Mackey) has been badly injured in a shopping-cart accident but, trouper that she is, goes on with the show.  She’s basically in a full body cast and can barely move so she’s always about 30 seconds late on her cues, generating one sight gag after another.  Watching her play a kid trying to throw snowballs is a special treat.

Sweet-natured Felicity (Christy-Lynne Guthrie) rounds out the group and features in the ridiculous ensemble musical numbers scattered through the show.  No choreographer is named in the program so I assume that director Kerry van der Griend is also responsible for those delicious arrangements.  The man does wonders inventing moment after moment of comic chaos and keeping it all from spinning out of control.

Hats off, too, to designers Erin Harris and Spencer Capier for their hysterically bad, perfectly mis-timed lighting and sound cues, and to stage manager Connie Hosie, who somehow manages to coordinate this whole joyful comic mess. 

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Sunday, December 18, 2005 11:06 AM
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