Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Christmas Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future Arrived in St. Petersburg, FL!

Unbenownst to Watson and I when deciding to close our investigative enterprise at 221-B Baker St. and relocate to the St. Petersburg, FL area, was that this accord would bring us so closely into the nexus of an unexpectantly vibrant theater scene.

Evoking the quality of production long ago seen in the West End (i.e. The Lyceum, The Old Vic, and even the Old Globe) where the careers of such esteemed actors as Sir John Geilgud, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Dame Judi Dench were codified, such is the sprituous  scene with the venues found in this Bay area including The Straz Performing Arts Center in Tampa or the bellicose ensembles at Ruth Eckerd Hall; venues drawing in the larger troupes and Broadway productions traveling thru on the euphonious circuit if you will. 

Yet the exemplary work of revered outlying British odeums as the Royal Plymouth Theater on Royal Parade in Plymouth, England (and a tip o'the hat to Miss Lady Louise and her troupe) conjure the reflectively astounding performances at The American Stage Theater, with their recent move to much larger quarters adjoining USF St. Petersburg and their continued impressive pursuances.

These venues alone have astonished the good Doctor and I so fervently that we have elected to participate in this thespian endeavor much more frequently, such is the surprise and the wonder that is the live theater on Florida's West Coast.

Yet there lies another jewel in this crown, a smaller production company in the St. Petersburg area that while dwarfed by its nearby brethren in both it's physical size and in its enterprise sponsorship, puts forward penetrating performances as deep and as rich as ever has been staged anywhere.

The Freefall Theater, found with a brief chivvy a mere 4  miles west of the burgeoning Downtown St. Petersburg scene, is a gift unto its own as well as to all those who choose to take advantage of it.

And it was just such a gift bestowed upon our little group when we attended the final year end performance of Charles Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol' - and on Christmas Eve no less! In this ensemble's fourth year of producing this classic, it availed us a festive and cheery way to envelope ourselves to the holidays.

These ardent professionals, under the exquisite direction of Artistic Director Eric Davis, fit 10 litres of glorious production into a 1 liter topper-hat and they did it with confidence and verve aplenty! Inventive sets, demiurgic lighting, and symphonious music....all on par with far larger productions and yet shoehorned magically into a space reminiscent of a gymnasium sized gilly sprinkled with puck and spirit!

With a deft nod to fellow Brit Alastair Sim, (whose depiction of the miserable Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 cinematic classic is perhaps the most chilling recorded on film), the Freefall Theater's seasonal curmudgeon was played with consanguinity by a similarly gifted actor - David Mann, who while a resident of the Tampa area has a gifted dynamic much more spacious than this area can contain and with esteemed theatrical escapades in San Diego, Miami, Washington, DC and elsewhere this particular gift will hopefully be opened in much larger circles anon. The flair for which his Scrooge performance was delivered and the dedicated focus required to transport this audience to 1850's London was a celestial trip worth far more than the pursers meager admittance fee.

In my line of work it is my habit to know exactly when a fine performance is placed before me (as evidenced by early calls to greatness of Ms. Nina Ariande in "Venus in Fur" and Ms. Mary Louise Parker's turn in 'Proof', both Tony winning deliveries) the fine Dr. and I previously espied Mr. Mann in his 2013 portrayal as 'The Emcee' in this troupe's delivery of Kander and Ebb's 'Cabaret'. His interpretations of both the Joel Grey character (in the 1967 Broadway depiction and in the 1976 film version with Liza Minelli) and here as Dickens' Ebenezer are far more enthralling depictions than any small local theater company would be expected to produce.....and thus became this season's true gift of the holiday's!

The high level of performance is easily a world class effort and this individual's work lifted the entire production. Yet one must also hand an equally respectful and mirthful acknowledgement to actors Stephan Jones, with four roles including a robust Mr. Marley and Mr. Fezziwig, and Mark Richard Taylor, also with four roles including the booming Ghost of Christmas Present.

The transcendent nature of this performance was such that it will be hard for me to say no to anything that Freefall produces in the future. Moreover, with the continually vibrant dining landscape burgeoning in the center city area, a jubilant time is there for the taking with no effort whatsoever.

Consequently, as with the Dicken's Ghost's, we reminisce the Freefall's past Christmases, were overjoyed with THIS years Christmas present, and wholeheartedly look forward to enjoining ourselves robustly in any and all future productions of Christmases yet to be!

Make it part of your December and a new tradition will be born!