Bare Bones “Reader’s Theater” Engages the Imagination, Tells a Familiar Story
The Invisible Theater Company presents “A Christmas Carol” at Guthrie’s Scottish Rite Temple. A stripped down version, this timeless tale is presented in a unique way. Instead of costumes and sets, this Reader’s Theater version involves on-book actors sitting and reading their scripts aloud to the audience. Book lights replace spotlights, while voices reflect emotions. Ten actors portray the classic Dickens characters, with Elizabeth Hurd at the helm as narrator. Tim Heaton, directs as well as portraying Scrooge.
With such a well-known story, told year after year in every medium imaginable, it would seem impossible to tell this old, familiar play in a new way. That’s the beauty of this reader’s theater arrangement. It’s a style that is unlikely to have been witnessed by many theater-goers. Given the absence of presentation, those in the audience can easily conjure their own mental images of what’s being read aloud. Audiences are even encouraged to close their eyes and “imagine harder”, as the cast wishes to remain “unseen” voices carrying out the plotline. The props are simple yet effective. One actor tolls a hand-held bell, and the hour is surely nigh. The chains of Scrooge’s long-gone partner Marley drag in a familiar clanking, stomped and shaken by the multi-faceted Amy Staton. The simple sound effects evoke the same emotions as more elaborate incarnations.
Stealing his own moment entirely is the Ghost of Christmas Present, portrayed by Jimmy Hartzell. His booming voice echoes warmth and jovial undertones to brighten a somewhat dismal dip in Scrooge’s overnight journey.
For this show, the petty distractions of more traditional theatre are gone, leaving the charge to audiences to stay focused and truly listen to the dialogue. It gives the actors a chance to showcase their raw talent, while highlighting and refining their skills. This show is presented with minimal prior rehearsal. It is essentially a rehearsal in itself; a read run-through. This may seem distracting at first, but actually adds to the authenticity of the presentation, as well as bringing the fourth-wall down a little further. Actors may trip some over their queues or have to repeat a line, but it adds a rustic, authentic feel that is welcoming to audiences.
The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the transformation he experiences at the hands of ghostly visitations is no doubt a beautiful one. It continues to remind us to take a look at what really matters in life, and to remember the true meaning of Christmas. “A Christmas Carol” has endured the change of everyday life and still survives despite the modernizations of the past 174 years since its original publication. This company does the story justice. It upholds the tale, even without a formal theatrical event. The elaborate backdrop in the Scottish Rite auditorium adds an air of mystery and refinement to this magical story.
This seldom seen reader’s theatre format is a must for any avid theater-goer. And Dickens is not to be messed with, making his novella the perfect show to put on in this unique style. The Invisible Theatre Company, an exciting new experiment in storytelling, manages to tell this old story in a surprisingly innovative and interesting way.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………….by Adrienne Proctor
Merry Christmas to all lovers of theatre. Here at Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd we wish everyone the best of holidays and we are looking forward to seeing some great theatre in 2018. We are growing slowly, in addition to myself, (Elizabeth Hurd) to review we have Jillian Pritchard Ball who does a wonderful job of editing and writing occasional reviews and we are adding another writer to the fold. We would like to welcome our new colleague, Adrienne Proctor, who will be able to bring coverage to those theatres we have been unable to cover. Her first review for Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd is above.
Also, a friend of Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd, Adam Davies is premiering his first play, “The Bathrobe Club” at the Civic Center on January 6, 2018. The curtain will go up at 5:00 pm. The format for this show is a readers’ theatre. This allows the playwright to see the ‘bones’ of the play prior to a full scale production. Davies would like to thank CityRep (Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre) for this wonderful opportunity. “The Bathrobe Club” is directed by Don Jordan and co-directed by Daniel Leeman Smith and we would like to invite all of our theatre friends to attend.
Above is our first review from Adrienne Proctor covering a rare performance by a critic. In preparation for “The Bathrobe Club” she has reviewed a Christmas readers’ theatre done at the Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie for the benefit of the Guthrie Library. Another “A Christmas Carol” with a different perspective perhaps, but one which allowed the founder of Oklahoma Art Scene and Hurd to let all know that we do not presume to criticize that which we are not capable of doing. Although the Narrator/Dickens was originally to be another actor, he was hospitalized due to a short illness and a few days prior to the performance that role was taken by yours truly. Thus, the opportunity presented itself to give our new colleague practice and fun reviewing a reader’s theatre prior to “The Bathrobe Club” and also giving our readers a little background about the concepts of readers’ theatre.