Gender-bending 'Carol' at Actors' Summit a hilarious holiday treat

by April Helms | Special Products Editor Published:

When Paula Kline

Messner was first asked to direct Actors' Summit's production of "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Presents 'A Christmas Carol,'" she said she was initially a bit skeptical.

"I mean, how many times have you seen 'A Christmas Carol,'" said Messner, an Aurora resident. "How many ways can they do 'Christmas Carol? But I took the script home and I read it, and I was laughing just reading it at home, and I knew this was something different. I knew this would be good."

The play, one in a series of plays written by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. concerning Farndale's exploits, centers on four women and their long-suffering stage manager who routinely put on shows. Unfortunately for the troupe (and to the hilarity of the audience) little goes as planned.

"It's a very different show for a performer to do," Messner said. "When we were going through this, I was trying to remember all the bad shows I'd seen, the falls, the missed cues, forgetting the lines. We'd keep adding things in as it went along. It was really a lot of fun. Timing is so central with comedy. I was fortunate to have Frank [Jackman] and Neil [Thackaberry] lead."

Which leads to another humorous angle in this show: the four women's parts are played by men, and the one male role is played by a woman. Thackaberry plays Mrs. Reece, the troupe's organizer, and Jackman plays Thelma, the troupe's temperamental lead actress. Zack Griffin plays the accident-prone Mercedes, Gabriel Riazi plays the spotlight-stealing Felicity and Laura Stitt plays the stage manager Gordon.

Thackaberry said that the characters onstage "are not trying to be bad."

"They are trying to be the best actors they can be," Thackaberry said, adding that the troupe's greatest strength is their enthusiasm.

The ladies from Farndale may not be professionals, but the actors portraying them are all top-notch, and the show elicits nearly non-stop laughter throughout its 90-minute run. One of the best moments is between Thelma's Scrooge and Gordon's Marley. Griffin's character's pratfalls and various mishaps are well done. But one of the best visual gags is Thackaberry - the tallest actor on the cast - playing Tiny Tim.

"I've never dressed like a woman before," said Jackman. "Mary [Jo Alexander, who designed the costumes] helped with the wigs. I know if I had tried it myself, it would have flown right off. She also showed me how to put in a hair scrunchy. I think there's a lot of funny things in the show, we're having a lot of fun."

Stitt, who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, said her costume and makeup weren't as involved as the other four.

"The challenge for me was playing a man who was playing a woman, with Mrs. Cratchet," Stitt said. "Gordon was a fun character. The show reminds me a bit of 'Nunsense' at times."

Ticket and show information

"The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Presents 'A Christmas Carol'" can be seen through Dec. 22.

Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 330-374-7568, or by visiting www.actorssummit.org. Tickets on other nights are $33 for adults, $28 for seniors over 65; and $10 for all students younger than 30.

The theater is on the sixth floor of historic Greystone Hall, 103 High St. in downtown Akron. The facility features barrier free access, free parking, and full bar service.

Next on stage

Actors' Summit will next produce "Photograph 51," which will run Jan. 16 through Feb. 2.

Email: ahelms@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9438

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