Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ben Wilson & Erin Ruiz at VAC

I sketched these a while back already, when I went to see Three Tall Women, but they might still be at the Visual Arts Collective. The first is by Erin Ruiz, from her series "Slings & Arrows (or goodbye enemy!)" Sorry about the ghosting from the picture behind it when I scanned this one.

I have to think she and Ben Wilson collaborated a bit on the naming of their exhibits. The following is a partial sketch from one of the pieces in his series, "Hello Friend."

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Story

The day before I went to see A Christmas Story at Boise Little Theater, I mentioned my plans to a couple of my friends at our favorite pub. They told me they'd never seen the movie. Dumbfounded, I turned to the people on my left and said, "Would you believe these two have never seen A Christmas Story?" They replied that they hadn't, either. I was thunderstruck. After all, this is the movie that TNT plays as a 24-hour marathon every year at Christmas. There are pilgrimages to the house where the movie was filmed. I personally consider it as much of a Christmas tradition as baking gingersnaps or unwrapping all of the presents on Christmas Eve.

Boise Little Theater's production does a great job of playing upon that tradition. The script for the live-action version contains some new material that expands on the movie version nicely. There are more opportunities for Ralphie's imagination to enact scenarios where he beats the bad guys with his official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. And there's a sweet love story added between Ralphie, played admirably by Klive Hume, and one of his classmates, Esther Jane Alberry, played with great charm by Leah March.

All of the kids in the show do a remarkable job: Jaxson Thornton as Schwartz; Sean Hermansen as the unfortunate Flick, who gets his tongue stuck to a flagpole; Katherine McDonagh as the brilliant and tough Helen Weathers, Eilish McDonagh as Roxane, Conner Schow as the bully Scut Farkas; Grover Dill as Scut's toady; and Drye Gyllenskog as Ralphie's annoying, oddball, difficult-to-live-with little brother Randy.

The adults in the show do a great job of playing out both Ralphie's day-to-day life and his vivid imagination. Erin Van Engelen gets an A++++++ as Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields, who winds through his imagination as a Southern belle swept away by the power of his essay, and rapidly transforms to a witch who's in on a plot with his mother to deny him a BB gun. Mike Cronen plays the Old Man, and he does a wonderful job of switching abruptly to his normal behavior of swearing at the Bumpus hounds and the furnace and begging his wife to go shopping for Christmas turkeys to -- in Ralphie's imagination -- cowering beneath a table in fear of Black Bart and cheering with joy when Ralphie the Kid drops in to save the day. Likewise, Helene Myers, who plays Ralphie's mother, goes through her day convincing Randy to eat like a good little piggy and trying her best to keep the gaudy leg lamp out of the front window, until she's called upon by Ralphie's imagination to play an evil winged monkey or a damsel in distress.

The only thing I found disappointing in the show was how difficult it was sometimes to hear Mike Mullens, who played the adult Ralph, over some of the scene changes. Mullens had some entertaining monologues, but they sometimes got a bit drowned out by major set pieces being dragged around at the same time.

The show runs its last two days tonight and tomorrow night. Don't be like my friends from the pub. Seeing A Christmas Story is a tradition worth participating in -- and seeing it live is like finding that extra package behind the couch on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

You might expect that seeing "A Christmas Carol" told from the perspective of Ebenezer Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Marley would be the most nontraditional aspect of this play.

You'd be wrong.

The show is strangely structured and strangely told. The actors break the fourth wall, looking at and talking to the audience. They wander around a mostly empty stage and describe the imagined scenery around them. They even narrate their own actions, then switch abruptly to dialogue with the other characters.

The show is sort of experimental and avant-garde, and that isn't for everyone. But if you decide to sit this one out, you'll be missing out on some excellent performances. Despite the minimal set and effects, the actors succeed in creating an intense atmosphere, making the nightmarish hellscape Marley is forced to wander and the larger-than-life spirits he encounters come to life with their words.

Curtis Ransom is excellent as Marley, bringing forth the man's sour disposition, fears, and madness, and transforming his character nicely as his character redeems himself and as he played the part of Scrooge's sometimes jovial, sometimes frightening visiting spirits. Bradley Campbell is equally bitter as Scrooge, but like Curtis Ransom, he does fine work depicting his character's transformation and has some fantastic reactions to the spirits. Courtney Ransom was impish as the Bogle, Marley's guide in the afterlife, and Lee Vander Boegh did a nice job as the endlessly amused recordkeeper.

The cast does a great job of getting past the strange aspects of the play and telling the story -- and it's a great version of the story. It's fascinating to watch Marley face his own demons and redeem himself.

Overall, the actors and director Jennifer Dunn keep the show grounded, giving it an emotional punch and keeping it entertaining. They made the story relatable and intriguing -- a difficult feat for a script that could have made for a very pretentious evening of theater. Instead, it's a wonderful show for the Christmas season, and that's all due to them. My Santa hat is off to them.