Wobbly sets, actors who don’t know their lines, backstage commotion – it may sound crazy but that’s the whole point of the off season Whidbey Playhouse production of “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts,” which opens Friday, Dec. 4 in Oak Harbor.
“It is a play within a play,” described producer Ken Grigsby.
Written by Mark Landon Smith, the play tells the story of the Stykes-Upon-Thump Repertory Company as it begins its 15th annual tour performing the Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol.” However, when the company’s lead actress pretends to be ill in order to cancel the production, the show goes on without her – for a time. That is a huge challenge for her understudy, Cynthia Imbry, played beautifully by Playhouse regular Coqui Herken.
“The hardest part was being able to pretend I have no idea what my lines are,” Herken said. Her character has written her lines on pretty much everything, including pillows, handkerchiefs, even the Christmas pudding.
Another challenge for the cast – both real and fictional – are the abundant costume and character changes. Being a small company, the actors of Stykes-Upon-Thump enjoy playing several different characters. Of course, that entails a lot of work for the actors playing the actors.
“I play nine different characters and have 18 costume changes through the course of the show,” said Andrew Huggins, a newcomer to the Playhouse stage but not to theater. “Plus, there are different accents for all of them.”
Costume changes are abundant and there are three crew dressers to assist the cast. For the men it is sometimes as simple as changing a wig, a jacket or a hat. There’s a little more required for the ladies.
“We have hoop skirts,” said Herken. “You can’t just step out of them, everything goes over our heads.”
Co-directed by Julia Locke and Kevin Meyer, one of the biggest challenges for this production is figuring out all the traffic patterns on both sides of the stage.
“There is a lot of choreography going on back stage,” said Meyer. To add to the complications, the play’s lead, Jim Reynolds – who plays Sir Selsdon Piddock, who in turn plays Scrooge – had to leave the country for work, missing more than four weeks of rehearsals.
“He had the blocking notes with him, but the difficulty was that I changed things as we rehearsed,” said Meyer.
“This has definitely been a challenge,” admitted Reynolds, who only had a couple of rehearsals before putting on a performance for members of the press and family. He said he has much respect for his fellow cast members.
“It’s amazing how intricate the characters and their development have to be and yet they are able to get all mixed up in them onstage,” he said.
This performance continues the Playhouse’s celebration of its 50th year, meaning it has been done before. The 1997 production was directed by Gaye Litka, who was having fun watching the performance.
“It’s wonderful. I love this comedy,” she said.
The production is scheduled to begin Dec. 4 and will run through Dec. 20. Because it comes directly after the current production of “A Lion in Winter,” the cast and crew have just 10 days to move the sets from the Star Studio where rehearsals have been held, to the main stage of the Playhouse. A challenge, yes, but well worth it.
“It will be a wonderful evening out,” Herken said of why people should come to the production. “There are lots of laughs. You won’t be sorry.”
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for youth age 16 and under. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday beginning Dec. 4, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Call the box office at 360-679-2237 or click here for information on dates, discounts and reservations.