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THE CHIMES: Actors, SFX, quick costume changes charm while plot twists confuse at Road Less Traveled

THE BASICS:  THE CHIMES: A GOBLIN STORY, the world-premiere adaptation of the second of the five Charles Dickens Christmas stories, written and directed by John Hurley, starring Gerry Maher, Lisa Vitrano, Andrea Andolina, Steve Brachmann, Nick Lama runs through December 18, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 at the Road Less Traveled Theater, 500 Pearl St. (629-3069). Run time: 90 minutes without intermission. Tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine, and beer available before the show. www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org

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THUMBNAIL SKETCH: After the success of “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 (we learn from the excellent-as-usual insert in the program) Charles Dickens wrote four more stories to be published starting in November over the years 1844 to 1848. This play adapts the second of those stories into a five-actor, 16-character play. Instead of ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future showing the parsimonious Scrooge the error of his ways, with a happy ending, we get a rather scary Goblin who goes after old Toby Veck, a widower, who, to keep bread on the table for himself and his daughter, has a really crappy job delivering messages in all sorts of weather for haughty, unpleasant, and somewhat malevolent rich people. Toby is a good guy, who even takes in a homeless father and his infant daughter. But, for one moment, reading in a newspaper about a downtrodden mother who commits suicide by drowning herself and her baby, Toby has an un-charitable thought, and for this the Goblin makes his life a living hell to teach him a lesson. In the end, all is well, of course, but the “take away” message is unclear.

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THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The players, as always at Road Less Traveled, put their all into the play. There is a lot of energy on that small stage. Jerry Maher, as old Toby, completely inherits the character. And Lisa Vitrano struts her acting chops in some very, very quick character changes playing the daughter, Meg Veck, as well as Mr. Filer (yes) Lady Bowley, and a convincing Goblin with SFX enhanced voice. The other three actors – Andrea Andolina, Steve Brachmann, and Nick Lama – are up to their tasks, as well.

The costumes by Maura Simmonds-Price were spot on, and cleverly designed to allow for lightning fast, right-in-front-of-your-eyes changes. All the other production elements were extremely clever, the set, the lights, the sound, etc.

If you go, get there a little early to read the insert, very well written and very funny.

If you go, get there a little early to read the insert, very well written and very funny. You don’t get that too often in a program, so enjoy it.

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My only problem, and it’s a big one, is that John Hurley, who adapted the work, was also the director, and had nobody to question a scene’s relevance or even to just say “no.” It seemed to me as if he had just sat down with the Dickens story and then wrote it out as dialogue and stage directions, line by line. I don’t know if that’s true, because I didn’t bring the text to the play. But every prose author knows that when a book is picked up for a movie, drastic cuts are made for dramatic continuity. That’s why most people say, after seeing a movie, that “the book was better” if only because it had more detail.

The same “less is more” should also apply to the stage, but it this case, it didn’t seem to. So, go for the acting and all of the stage business and a chance to experience another side of Dickens, but be ready to be a little confused every now and then.

Photos courtesy of Gina Gandolfo-Lopez

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*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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