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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Actors’ Summit stages English comedy

12/5/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

From left, Frank Jackman, Zach Griffin, Laura Stitt, Gabriel Riazi and Neil Thackaberry star in Actors’ Summit Theater’s production of “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Presents ‘A Christmas Carol.’”
Photo: Bruce Ford
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Charles Dickens may be spinning in his grave at the strange satirical play, “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Presents ‘A Christmas Carol,’” which is on stage at Actors’ Summit Theater through Dec. 22.

The satire was written by two English writers, David McGillivray and Walter Zerin Jr. The script is uneven and some parts were obviously influenced by the playwrights’ knowledge of the Monty Python troupe. Other parts seem as sophisticated and brittle as Noel Coward’s plays. One scene evokes Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine. The playwrights aren’t afraid to lean heavily on their betters.

The story involves four English ladies who attempt to present Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The ladies of the company are joined by one male, the stage manager. However, for Actors’ Summit’s production, four men play the four women, and one woman plays the male stage manager. Don’t worry, it’s more confusing in person.

The Actors’ Summit production gets off to a slow, slow start. But, finally, the production picks up some steam and rollicks along, collecting more and more laughter.

The production was held up for some late-comers — I’m not sure they ever made it to the theater. The company would establish more credibility by starting on time and letting those tardy wait for an intermission. However, this production, which is performed in one act, doesn’t have an intermission.

The star of the show has to be the great costumes, designed and built by Artistic Co-Director MaryJo Alexander. Each of the men (or women) had four or five costumes. Laura Stitt, the one woman in the show, had several costumes, which permitted her to play at least six characters.

Frank Jackman (Thelma and Scrooge) wore baggy black pants, a white shirt (silk?) and sensible shoes. Jackman gave new meaning to the word diva. He made his Thelma worthy of the lead in any American soap opera.

Neil Thackaberry (Mrs. Reece, Tiny Tim and at least four other characters) wore several frocks (English style) and sensible shoes. He wore bright and eye-catching costumes. Thackaberry spoke some laugh lines under his breath and yet they reached the back of the theater and evoked laughs.

Mrs. Reece is head of the community theater group and a bit more timid than the boisterous Jackman. She chats with the audience, and Thackaberry made those sections of the play work well.

Zach Griffin (Mercedes and three other characters) played characters who seemed often to fall and need casts, slings and, in the last section of the play, a bright red go-cart.

Gabriel Riazi (Felicity and four other characters) wore a variety of costumes and high, high heels. Riazi has proven his versatility as an actor in his work with Actors’ Summit and None Too Fragile.

Director Paula Kline Messner is best known locally for playing in light comedies. She makes this production dance on a tightrope above light-hearted comedy.

Despite all of the nonsense on stage, this is a family show. Keep in mind, the show runs about 90 minutes without a break. For reservations, call 330-374-7568.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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