I’ve long been an admirer of Good Medicine Productions’ mission to bring quality performances to hospitals, nursing homes, and other situations that don’t have a lot of theater. I was therefore delighted to receive the invitation to see their immersion A Christmas Carol adaptation/fundraising Downtown Scrooge, created and directed by Kristie Koehler Vuocolo.
by Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is a classic for a reason, a setting everyone knows enough to keep up with the malleable shifts as long as it hits the main beats. Koehler Vuocolo and his energetic cast know this and use exactly enough of the original play to create an experience that makes excellent use of the three-block radius of downtown Westernville and keeps the story’s lessons about generosity and empathy in the foreground. mind while laughing a lot.
Empathy starts with name tags – all attendees put their first name above the already marked “Scrooge”, and we’re reminded throughout that we’re all Scrooge here – or at least we all have those tendencies. The group is led by a host – sometimes Marley, sometimes a more specific narrator, and sometimes the ghosts of Christmas past and present – through the streets and alleys and behind the scenes, restaurants and shops.
The performers rotate, but in the case of my tour, we were lucky to have Christina Yoho, who I’ve seen here several times. She approached the roles with relish, sometimes scolding us gently, sometimes cheerleading as an MC. Some of my favorite moments came with perfect pitch modulations where suddenly there was a moment of silence (a devastating story in the middle of Westerville Florist; someone called out of the band to send Scrooge’s first love, Belle, far, in the entrance of the old State Theater, now Barrel and Boar) between wild, the best kind of over-intensity. These subtle reinforcements gave the show weight, impact, without ever crossing the line heavy.
The other actors on my tour were just as fantastic. Andrew Conway’s disco Fezziwig, Scrooge’s nephew Fred (especially in a charming duet with designer Kristie Koehler Vuocolo as Scrooge’s sister Belle), and the sinister Ghost of Christmas Future kept the performance going. movement and gave him a lot of heart. Koehler Vuocolo’s Fanny and Belle, along with an antique Bob Cratchit, fleshed out the world in a palpable, human way. I may have been very impressed with Luna Peterson as Tiny Tim, a self-aware version who brushes up against the meta in an adorable way and constantly ups the energy level.
There is a beautiful lack of self-awareness encouraged in Downtown Scrooge which evokes childlike wonder if you can indulge in it. Any issue of looking silly should be left at the door for Marley’s funeral, because I found myself singing with strangers on State Street, calling and answering “Bah Humbug”, and a number of things I didn’t expect a fall Sunday to include. I also found myself forgetting which direction was right and left, while trying to Hustle and almost ran into someone more than once (apologies to whoever was with me on this trip) . This leads to a particular caveat: if participation isn’t your thing, it may not be for you. If you have issues with anxiety, shyness, or even just an aversion to being called, I didn’t see a good mechanism to pull you out of it in this experiment.
Downtown Scrooge worked in a way I expected and in a way that surprised me. I can’t remember the last time I was so charmed and delighted.
He burned every bit of Christmas song fatigue – even addressed directly by Yoho on my tour – and kicked off the season with feelings of goodwill towards my fellow citizens.
Downtown Scrooge until December 18, with performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoons starting at 30 E. College Ave. in Westerville. For tickets, performance times and more information, visit goodmedicineproductions.org.
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