The fictitious Soapbox Theater Co. is preparing for its annual holiday show, A Christmas Carol, for a 12th year. But trouble is mounting.
It started when Scrooge said all his lines in Spanish, and the kid who always plays Tiny Tim isn’t so tiny any more.
The stage manager is going crazy trying to schedule rehearsals, and two guys with the company decided to update the story, making it more ’80s-friendly, upsetting some of the other more traditional actors in the troupe.
On top of all that, the company’s bookkeeper says they’re broke, and a pending grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is being held up until the theater is inspected.
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That’s the gist of the Richland Players’ next production, Inspecting Carol, which opens Dec. 5 at The Players Theatre in Richland.
Renee McMahon is directing the comedy. The show includes Bill McMahon as Larry Vauxhall, Cory Huntington as Luther, E.J. Brewer as Walter E. Parsons and Chris Purvis is Sidney.
Gary Cook plays Phil Hewlitt, Dianne Hudson is Dorothy, Ashley Purvis is Bart, with Samantha Weakley as Kevin and Christy Batayola as the director.
“This show is just fun,” said Renee McMahon. “It’s a bit like Barbecuing Hamlet but with some fun social, political humor.”
Purvis is 19, but he has no doubt he can play an old man like Sidney.
“I have a funny old man voice that I thought sounds pretty good and decided to use it at auditions,” Purvis said. “I honestly didn’t think I would get cast in the production, but I am so happy I did.”
He says the cast has spent so much time together the past several weeks that they call each other by their character names.
“I actually have trouble calling everyone by their actual first names,” he joked. “Playing the role of Sidney, who is Jacob Marley within the play, has been an interesting experience. I haven’t done many roles as an old man who carries big, heavy chains around his wrists and waist. And it’s an even bigger challenge to keep them quiet backstage as I put them on.”
Heidi Dagle, 46, of Richland, plays the stage manager MJ.
The best part is how much fun the cast is having and that will no doubt be clear to the audience, Dagle said.
“There is lots of physical comedy, great one-liners, and the cast is like one big crazy family,” Dagle said. “I’ve never had this much fun at rehearsals.”
Cook, 53, of Richland, describes his character as a Mr.-Milk-Toast kind-of guy who never speaks up for himself. But when changes in the play’s storyline begin to ruin the traditional message, he unleashes his pent-up anger, and all hell breaks loose.
“The play takes a classic, A Christmas Carol, that everyone practically knows by heart and turns it inside out,” Cook said. “Every actor in this show is strong, and weeks into rehearsal we are all still laughing at each other’s performances.”
Batayola, 45, of Kennewick, says Inspecting Carol is one of her all-time favorite stories since seeing it first performed by the Seattle Repertory Theater in the early ’90s.
“This irreverent look at the classic holiday staple A Christmas Carol had me and the rest of the audience laughing throughout the performance and for days, and in my case, years afterward,” Batayola said. “My role as Zorah, the director of the Soapbox Playhouse, will do whatever it takes to keep the theater going. Since the Christmas season can be a stressful time as we shop, decorate, wrap presents, host parties, I think Inspecting Carol provides a great opportunity for people to sit back, relax and have a good belly laugh.”
Brewer said what attracted him to the role of Walter had more to do with the character’s memory than being the new guy on set, and the only African American in the cast. Walter has trouble remembering his lines and that has the other cast members feeling as frustrated as he is.
“The role attracted me not necessarily because of Walter’s race, but because I once wrestled with line memorization when I first began acting,” he said.
He adds that playing a character role instead of a lead role has its advantages because Walter plays all three ghosts, stealing the spotlight without having to remember so many lines.
The play runs Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 at the Players Theatre, 610 The Parkway in Richland. There also is a 2 p.m. matinee Dec. 14 and 21. Curtain time is 8 p.m.
Tickets to all performances are $15 for adults and $12 students and seniors.