Young Cratchits take center stage

By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  December 13, 2006

Getting a little weary of all the flashy, material excess of the Yuletide season? No, I’m not just talking about the drama of the Mall Zone. In many of our standard holiday stage entertainments, too, production values are often just a little too dizzying. Don’t you yearn for the feisty, DIY spirit of the neighborhood? Well, seek no further: this and other worthy spirits will be in abundance in the Shoestring Theater’s A Christmas Carol, presented this Friday at the Reiche School, at 7 pm.

Now in its 16th year, Shoestring Theater’s Carol has long been a West End holiday institution, and it is a particularly good treat for your young friends. For one thing, no need to worry about your wee companions (or you) snoring through the slower parts, because Nance Parker’s script cuts all the fat out of Dickens’s story, giving us its best and meatiest parts in just under 25 minutes. For another, most of the production — including stage-handing and sound direction — is in the hands of thespians who are themselves between the ages of 4 and 12. Finally, this Carol is simply a fantastically fun, low-fi intermingling of human actors and zany big-rod puppets, hand puppets, and Spanish Carnival heads.

Each season, Parker handpicks the neighborhood kids who’ll spend two weeks preparing the Christmas puppet extravaganza. Over the years, many West End youngsters have cycled through Parker’s “workshops,” moving up through the hierarchy of dramaturgical roles and responsibilities, sometimes returning to help with sets once they age out. Max Heller, a sixth grader at King Middle School, has been doing Carol since he was in kindergarten. He started off playing Tiny Tim, played Marley two years ago, and this year gives a great booming performance as the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Present (robustly represented as a big-rod puppet with a green face, a blue lock of hair, and red polka-dot garb). Scrooge himself is played by a grown-up, James Light, who says Shoestring’s wacky Carol has long been a seasonal highlight — “even before I had a kid!” It also includes the theatrical talents of Max and Nick Heller; Luke Howlett; Eva and James Light; Angelo, Cillo, and Francesca Magno; Leander Johnson; Simon Jupiter; Zoe Rivera; and Malachi Whitten.

Think of this as Portland’s personal, imperfect, boho A Christmas Carol. Inside the fireplace of the 16-year-old set, a screen rolls to conjure a snowy Fresh Approach and Joe’s Smoke Shop, with hardy patrons gathered near the storefronts. Shoestring makes it our story. This Carol is, in the words of the Ghost of Christmas Present, “poor in finances but rich in wisdom and love.” Admission costs a quarter — a penny a minute.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL | Dec 15 | 7 pm | Reiche School, 166 Brackett St, Portland | 25 cents | 207.774.1502

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