Theater review: 'The Farndale Avenue... Christmas Carol'

Christmas is a time for nostalgia — and good will — so maybe we should cut the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's current holiday comedy some slack.

After all, it's full of old jokes, old visual gags and old comedy set-ups. Even the premise — a group of inept thespians butcher the show they are staging — is a theatrical chestnut.

But unfortunately, there's a difference between the warm feeling generated by nostalgia and the uninterest provoked by the sense you've seen this done before — and funnier, in classics such as Michael Frayn's farce "Noises Off."

This show has a headline writer's nightmare of a title: "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of 'A Christmas Carol.'"

The very British ladies of the Farndale dramatic society appear in a series of spoofs by playwrights David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. stretching back to 1976, when they apparently tackled "Macbeth."

In this installment, the ladies take on Charles Dickens' Victorian classic, beloved of amateur theater companies everywhere, and make of mess of it. But it all boils down to a few gags repeated ad nauseum. One performer's injuries disrupt the proceedings. Many can't remember their lines. They break character. They knock over props.

Many of the gags are ridiculously predictable: When an actor sits on another's shoulders, there's obviously going to be a danger of falling. When the actors pick up large flashcards to spell out a word, the letters will clearly be in the wrong order.

In the second act, as if the playwrights realized they were running out of ideas and needed to pad the experience, there's a rather pointless audience-participation segment involving a nonsensical game of charades. To be fair, the gentleman who participated at a recent matinee was quite comical. But, let's be honest, there's nothing fresh about putting a mature gentleman in a dress.

The actors do what they can with such material. Many of them engender good feelings from the audience, based on the fine work they've done in other local productions.

Karel K. Wright, a Mad Cow Theatre veteran, is the ladies' ringleader and bustles about as a cross between Betty White and Hyacinth Bouquet, the formidably misguided woman at the heart of popular Brit-com "Keeping Up Appearances."

Shakespeare Theater veteran Anne Hering chews the scenery as the spotlight-hungry star who plays Scrooge, while Suzanne O'Donnell, another familiar face at the Shakes, milks every ounce of laughter she can out of her neck brace and halting movements.

Kelly Kilgore and Paul Romero are perfectly amiable. But despite the bonhomie, director Matt Pfeiffer doesn't get the sense of frantic glee that pervades the best of these sort of comedies.

The Farndale ladies are working really hard for a big ho-ho-ho, but they deliver only half-hearted chuckling.

'The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of "A Christmas Carol"'

What: Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of a David McGillivray/Walter Zerlin Jr. comedy

Length: 1:45, including intermission

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, and senior matinees on two Wednesdays, Dec. 12 and 19; through Dec. 30

Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando

Tickets: $20-$40, student and military discounts

Call: 407-447-1700

Online: orlandoshakes.org

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