Photo courtesy of New City Players
Carlos Alayeto (Filmore/Scrooge) recites his lines while Pat Williams (Gustavo Garcia) keeps his place in the script.
By AARON KRAUSE
While countless versions of A Christmas Carol exist, we won’t be Scrooges and say that there isn’t room for another one.
With that kind of embracing spirit in mind, we welcome a faithful, moving, dark, and charming reimagined version by New City Players’ (NCP) ensemble member Tyler Johnson Grimes. It is running through Dec. 23 in a believable and imaginative production by NCP in Island City Stage’s intimate playing space in Wilton Manors. The running time is about 90 minutes.
In Grimes’ version, a woman says of her Scrooge-like sibling: “My brother is a difficult man, but a good person is still in there somewhere. Buried deep. Let’s try to find him, shall we?”
Undoubtedly, the line neatly encapsulates one of A Christmas Carol’s main themes, namely that people have the capacity to change for the better. Certainly, in Scrooge’s case, goodness is “buried deep” within him and the spirits that famously visited him one 19th century Christmas Eve dig to unearth that benevolence.
Those spirits are present in Grimes’ reimagined version. So, too, are other familiar characters from Charles Dickens’ classic whom you have likely encountered on the page, screen, or stage. But Grimes also introduces new characters such as Scrooge-like radio station manager Alastair Filmore. He lives in Ft. Lauderdale in 1971, the setting for Grimes’ reimagined version of Dickens’ classic.
More specifically, the adaptation takes place at fictional radio station WNCP. There, a group of actors has gathered to perform in a live radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol, a treasured annual tradition at the station. However, 1971 will likely mark the last such broadcast. That is because Filmore is about to sell off the station. Since it is no longer profitable, it may as well not exist, to Filmore’s way of thinking. So, unless a last-minute infusion of Christmas spirit changes the manager’s mind, WNCP will become a thing of the past, paving the way for the development of a cable television station.
As you have probably guessed, the behind-the-scenes story of the radio station, Filmore, and its actors increasingly comes to parallel Dickens’ tale. The result is a sometimes grim, sometimes charming holiday play which proves that Dickens’ story carries relevance regardless of the time period in which you set it.
WNCP is not entirely new to the South Florida theater scene. Indeed, the station served as the setting for last year’s enchanting and believable NCP production of It’s a Wonderful Life. For that production, radio station performers acted out the classic for a live audience as well as remote listeners. Audience members for NCP’s production portrayed the live radio audience. This year, once again, we comprise the live listening audience as WNCP’s version of A Christmas Carol is broadcast live.
For his work creating It’s a Wonderful Life’s foley sound effects, Grimes received a Carbonell Award nomination. Kudos once again to Grimes, who has created the foley sound effects for his reimaging of A Christmas Carol. Thanks to Grimes’ imaginative work, everything sounds real. From the foreboding to the merry, Grimes’ soundscape is diverse and convincing. Meanwhile, the acting and design work are also impressive.
NCP cast members portray WNCP performers who, in turn, depict multiple characters in Dickens’ tale. Talk about acting challenges…these performers deserve each moment of applause showered upon them. In addition to their talent, the relatively small size of Island City Stage’s playing space allows them to speak in conversational voices, which help them turn in naturalistic performances. Of course, credit must go to NCP Producing Artistic Director Timothy Mark Davis. He is the production’s director and producer. Davis sensitively directs with an attention to detail. For instance, the pacing is just right, as is the comic timing. While Davis and Co. place emphasis on the humor, dramatic moments also receive the emphasis that they deserve.
Carlos Alayeto heads the cast by portraying Filmore, who plays Scrooge. With a facial expression and tone of voice that convey a mixture of sarcasm and bitterness, Alayeto naturally depicts Dickens’ miserable miser while also embodying the frugal Filmore. The actor naturally portrays the two characters, wisely avoiding turning either into stereotypical caricatures. While Alayeto’s portrayals of Filmore and Scrooge aren’t that different, the actor clearly differentiates between the two characters before their transformation and after they have changed. Clearly, at the end, we witness transformed, joyous individuals who have learned the true meaning of Christmas.
Other cast standouts include Laura Argo, who plays Filmore’s sister, Frances Magon. She is the co-owner of WNCP and the producer/director of the radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol.
Argo imbues her character with a directness that leaves no doubt in our minds that this woman is disappointed at her brother for his miserly ways. And while she may still like her brother, she dislikes his decision to shut down the radio station and, as a result, leave people with no jobs. Like Filmore/Scrooge, Magon turns convincingly joyful toward the end, when it is clear that Filmore/Scrooge have changed for the better.
While Argo’s Magon is direct and often bitter toward her brother, Gustavo Garcia and Noah Levine radiate joy as Pat Williams and Walter R. Booth, respectively. It seems that even a miser like Filmore cannot dampen their spirits.
Williams is a used car salesman and the winner of a WNCP radio contest, so he has a reason to feel happy.
Booth is a WNCP journeyman who grew up alongside the rise and fall of the radio station. Booth is also uncle to Claire Phillips, an “up and coming actor meant for bigger things, if the fates will allow,” according to a character description in Grimes’ script.
Marlo Rodriguez portrays Phillips with a positive spirit and a kind disposition that makes us root for her. At one point, it becomes clear that Phillips is sick, so we become concerned about her health.
Caroline Tarantolo spiritedly plays June Lockhart, a seasoned actor with a foot out the door. Lockhart was engaged to Filmore “a lifetime ago.”
Lockhart, and her colleagues at the radio station, are on edge, with Filmore leaning clearly toward selling the station. NCP’s cast of performers make the tension believable.
The cast performs on a realistic set depicting WNCP with detail. For instance, there are microphones and multiple signs indicating that we are at a radio station. They include one sign that reads “On the Air,” while another sign reads “Applause.” The latter lights up to encourage the live audience to put their hands together at appropriate moments. In addition, colored lights appear against dark walls. The contrast could be symbolic, suggesting that even amid darkness, there is light.
Behind the scenes, Annabel Herrera is the lighting designer. The lighting is realistic and either bright or dim, depending on the mood a scene calls for. Effects such as blinking lights help to reinforce a ghostly presence.
Casey Sacco designed the character-appropriate costumes. For instance, Filmore wears grey and black, both of which reflect his dark personality. Contrastingly, other performers wear clothing that is lighter in color, such as green, red, and orange. They are hues befitting the brightness of the holiday season.
Of course, A Christmas Carol contains plenty of darkness as well. And NCP’s production honors the bleakness in the tale, which allows the light and merriness at the end to shine brighter.
There’s a moment in Grimes’ script during which we learn that WNCP’s production of A Christmas Carol may represent the last vestiges of live radio theater. It’s hard not to shudder at such a comment today, when live theater is struggling. Indeed, theater companies are hurting in the wake of the pandemic, and some companies have even shut down. But live theater in South Florida seems vibrant, and companies throughout the region are producing excellent work. Without question, they deserve your support. So go and buy a ticket to quality productions such as NCP’s mounting of A Christmas Carol. You’ll be glad you did.
NCP’s production of A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 23. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors (65+) and $25 for students (under 25 with ID. For Thursday night performances, $25 tickets will be available for all. You can purchase tickets at www.newcityplayers.org/season or by calling (954) 376-6114. Weekly post-show talkbacks will take place after every Sunday show. The talkbacks further explore the themes and process of the play. The venue, Island City Stage, is located at 2304 W. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors.
Photo courtesy of New City Players
Jacob Marley is weighed down with chains and other items as Filmore/Scrooge (Carlos Alayeto) looks on.