by SOPHIE KERMAN
It is too bad that God Rest Ye Scary Gentlemen is such a good idea, because that makes its execution all the more disappointing. The mission of the Hardcover Theater is to adapt texts for the stage, and for their latest production, they have chosen to spook up the holidays with three 19th-century ghost stories, each taking place around Christmastime. The adapter, Steve Schroer, has chosen texts which all feature a different sort of haunting – a centuries-old feud between brothers, a (comically single-minded) heartbroken lover, and a water ghost who floods her former house once a year – and each ghost is sent to its resting place in a different clever way.
The concept, and probably the original source material, seems like a fun break from December’s relentless cheer. The performances, however, were a pretty big let-down, since the stories are performed as a staged reading and not as a full-scale play. For tales that depend so much on action and surprise, it was disappointing to see the actors so tied to the text – particularly when the play’s one-hour run time shouldn’t be too great of an obstacle to memorization. This choice could have been redeemed by some more creative use of sound effects, but apart from Jerry Dragan Bjelojac‘s impressive skills on the theremin (ever heard someone hold an accurate pitch on a theremin?), there wasn’t much to enhance the show’s radio-play qualities.
I saw a lot of potential in performances by Philip D. Henry and Meredith Larson, as they strained to get away from their music stands and into some more interesting and dramatic physicality. Unfortunately, Dawn Krosnowski often failed to escape from her overzealous characterizations, and Steve Schroer‘s roles came across as amateurish, with his muddled accents and heavy reliance on the script.
As I said, it is too bad about the performances, because the show held so much promise of fun Victorian pre-Christmas chills. Bjelojac’s theremin playing and Lisa Conley‘s versatile and convincing costumes set the stage perfectly for an evening of eerie entertainment, but the actors could never really scare us while trapped behind their scripts.
God Rest Ye Scary Gentlemen, adapted and directed by Steve Schroer, performed by the Hardcover Theater at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater, 810 W. Lake St., Mpls. December 15-30, 2012. Tickets $15, $12 in advance or with Fringe button, $6 kids 12 and under. For reservations, call 612.825.8949 or visit www.bryantlakebowl.com.