'A Christmas Carol' graces downtown Hood River

For the first time in years, Hood River’s performing arts group, CAST, is staging a “theater in the round.” And they couldn’t have picked a better production.

Judy Yeo is directing a cast of eight in “A Christmas Carol,” staged in the ballroom at the Hood River Hotel Friday and Saturday.

The performance will take place in and among the tables — and the audience.

“I call this type of theater we are doing ‘theater in the round,’ Yeo said. But, she noted, most theater in the round performances are still done on a stage. “What we are doing, then, goes beyond that and creates a greater challenge. We really take the play to the audience, and in essence, tell them, ‘You are a part of the play.’”

Staging a production this way presents many challenges, Yeo said.

“It’s getting the actors to understand that they’re going to be working around people — that there will be a lot more commotion going on than usual,” she said. It also means that props have to be minimal, since the actors have to move objects — often by themselves and quickly. And making the lighting work in such an unusual space has taken work.

“We’re going from tall ceilings and free area to low ceilings with all kinds of things hanging down,” said Yeo, who credits lighting technician Al Tengwall with “making the thing work.” Even rehearsals at the hotel have been different.

“We’re used to throwing all our junk around,” Yeo said, laughing. “But this is a business, so we have to clean up after ourselves.”

Yeo and her cast have successfully tackled the challenges and come up with a fun rendition of the holiday classic.

Gary Young is once again playing Ebenezer Scrooge — a role for which he was widely praised the last time CAST performed “A Christmas Carol” at the Performing Arts Center in 1998.

Most of the other actors play several parts in the production. Lisa Vincenzo, a newcomer to CAST, plays Mrs. Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past, as well as a Charwoman. Jim Bull, long-time board member of CAST, plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, Jacob Marley’s Ghost and a couple of other characters.

Theresa North deftly juggles Mrs. Fezziwig, Martha, a Laundress and Fan. Veteran CAST actor Keith Doroski plays Bob Cratchit and another minor part. Brent Sholar plays Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. Lynn Lewis plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And 8-year-old Maggie Sholar plays Tiny Tim, a Reader, a Boy on the Street and Young Scrooge.

“Maggie’s kind of the jewel in our crown,” Yeo said. “The way she speaks and looks — I knew she was going to be a heart-melter, and she is.”

Yeo praised the cast for pulling off “what may on the surface seem to be a simple piece.”

“Because this adaptation is meant for a limited cast, it requires the actors to work that much harder on their characterizations so the audience sees each character as a different entity,” said Yeo, adding that most are also “doing narration, moving set pieces, changing costumes, and in some cases supplying sound effects.”

Yeo took some liberties with the Christopher Shario adaptation of the play.

“I said to the actors, ‘Play with your parts and see what we can come up with’,” Yeo said. As a result, some of the characters — like Vincenzo’s Ghost of Christmas Past — have some added quirks that bring a touch of humor to even some of the serious scenes.

The ballroom will be the site of the performance, but the lobby and restaurant will be getting into the act as well. Hotel General Manager Cathy Butterfield and some of her staff plan to dress in period attire. The restaurant’s menu for the two nights has been revised to include such fare as baked peacock pie and plum pudding.

“We did some research for that century,” Butterfield said of the culinary changes. Tickets for the performance include appetizers, cookies and warm drinks. But people can come early — or stay late — for dinner, which will be served in Pasquale’s Ristorante, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Yeo and her cast have been rehearsing for the past two months for their theater in the round performance, and they’re ready, according to Yeo.

“It’s been a challenge, but isn’t it going to be cool!” Yeo said. “I think it’s going to be a real great beginning to kick off the holiday season.”

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