The stage has barely enough room for two actors to stand and the performance can include passing traffic. But doing more with less and reacting in real time to unforeseen circumstances is the charm of the Virginia Theatre Machine (VTM).
A fully mobile theater delivery facility, VTM is currently touring a production of “A Christmas Carol” around to locations across Richmond, often doing multiple shows a day. I arrived at the parking lot of Westover Hills Library on a hazy Saturday morning and watched the crowd grow from two patrons to over 20 as curious neighbors came by to check out the hubbub.
We were all treated to a delightful, abbreviated adaptation (“abbrevatation”) of the Dickens classic that came in at just about 35 minutes. Thanks to impressive stagecraft and nimble performances by Mikaela Craft and Ed Whitacre, the show provided just enough of the Scrooge essentials to spark the requisite feelings of holiday cheer.
The fact that the performances help out a variety of local charities adds an additional rosy glow.
The brainchild of director / producer Mark Lerman, VTM utilizes an amazing array of props, puppets, and sounds to create a full-bodied theatrical experience. Subsidiary characters are represented as simply as drawings on window shades pulled down at appropriate moments or as elaborately as the remarkably complex puppet that represents the entire Cratchit family.
And even though the show is largely a playful romp, the depiction of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-come was scary enough to have a toddler in my audience burying her head in her parent’s coat.
None of it would succeed without amiable and energetic actors and Craft and Whitacre skillfully employ a wide range of tools to keep the production zipping along. Whitacre’s Scrooge starts out all scowls and snores but his transition to giddy and giving holiday hero is never in doubt. Craft makes the most of her many characterizations, with a sassy Ghost of Christmas Past giving way to a humorously narcissistic Christmas Present.
Both actors engage the audience in winning ways, recruiting two volunteers at one point to round out the cast.
The script provides the expected basics with fun modern additions; I loved the tossed off “stop calling me Shirley …” reference, for example.
But the star of the show is the machine itself with an operational economy that effectively makes it the “tiny home” of live performance. For a satisfyingly succinct dose of Dickens, look for it at a parking lot near you.
The schedule of free performances of Virginia Theatre Machine’s “A Christmas Carol” can be found at https://www.virginiatheatremachine.com/. The run will end with 5 performances at Firehouse Theatre where ticket purchase will be required. More info at https://firehousetheatre.ludus.com/index.php?show_id=200438317.