Christmas in the Spotlight: Clever Punk Christmas Carol at the Bonstelle; It’s a Wonderful Life at the Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Wayne State University’s Bonstelle undergraduate theater company presents “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 13. William Turbett (left) of Dearborn plays multiple ensemble roles. Alex Trice (center) plays Dickens, and Benjamin Williams is Scrooge. The oft-performed play is given a fresh face by being set in modern-day London with a punk influence. Advance tickets are available at (313) 561-TKTS. For more information, go to www.bonstelle.com.

By Sue Suchyta
Just as holiday traditions provide continuity and familiarity, adding a fresh touch to a familiar classic can inject excitement and flavor into a tried and true recipe.

Dearborn and Dearborn Heights actors offer entertainment for many tastes: Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre is doing “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Berwyn Center for one more weekend, and the Bonstelle closes out its two-week run of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” this weekend as well.

Dearborn actors William Turbett and Jacqueline Michnuk are featured in the strong ensemble, taking on multiple persona.

“A Christmas Carol” is synonymous with hope and second chances, and when performed well, provides a traditional holiday treat. Fresh touches added by directors and actors can bring new insight into the timeless tale, and bring the story closer to our own world view.

Wayne State University’s strong undergraduate theater company at the Bonstelle takes us to modern day London complete with sounds and sights: church bells, the Underground (subway) announcements, and kohl-eyed, spike-gelled hair on punk-inspired youth.

Before you cringe and mentally retreat, hear me out: It works, and it really clicks. It takes careful direction to avoid stereotypical clichés and bring out the raw energy and vigor of London’s counter-culture fringe. The punk-clothed female waifs are part wide-eyed angels, and they sing like a chorus of them might. They also symbolize restlessness and disenfranchisement, a generation who won’t grab for a brass ring they never expect to attain.

Dickens spoke for the downtrodden, and his works speak to us today, as the working class suffers the most in the fallout of the stock market decline and the regrouping and withdrawal of the financially elite.

The cast of undergraduate actors do well with the British accents, giving a real flavor to the production. The cast also makes the distinction between upper, middle and lower class British accents.

Benjamin Williams is superb as Ebenezer Scrooge, a man obsessed with money at the expense of everyone and everything else he once loved. Equally engaging are his opposites: The long-suffering Cratchit, willing to suffer under Scrooge to put bread on his family’s table, capably portrayed by Dave Cowan; and Ted Neda as Fred, the ever optimistic nephew of Scrooge.

Patrick Loos provides an intense cameo as Marley, the ghost of Scrooge’s late business partner.

The chorus, as it creates scenes for the ghosts of the past, present and future, travel through time periods and fashions in a visual kaleidoscope. One moment the Ghost of Christmas Past looks like a sitcom icon from Pleasantville. The next moment hemlines are rising as the years march on. Then the rebellion and disenchantment of youth and the disenfranchised becomes more pronounced in both clothing and appearance. Just as clothing separates classes, conformity to an inherited norm creates visual distinctions.

Costumer Jessica Van Essen and her costume cadre created new works and pulled designer donations from the costume shop’s magic closets.

Scenic designer Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s set employs the expected outside and inside structures that spin and open up like doll houses with unexpected touches: a dwelling that opens up like a Murphy bed, and balcony catwalks that become choir lofts for gritty urban angels. The sets are dressed with quirky and gritty modern touches: a fire escape ladder, plastic Union Jack flags, battered file cabinets, and other props that inhabit weary urban settings like invasive weeds.

The music infuses the show with much of its energy, and most of that is vocal, with electric guitar accompaniment. The cast relishes their curtain call non-traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It is truly an ensemble show, with the chorus onstage often, and in multiple roles.

So if you harbor a soft spot for “A Christmas Carol” (if the mere mention of the much performed classic doesn’t send you into hiding) plan to see a fresh presentation of a timeless story of redemption.

Closing weekend performances are at 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12, and 2 p.m. Dec. 13. Tickets are $15, with $12 discounted tickets for seniors, students, faculty, staff and alumni. Call (313) 577-2960, or go to www.bonstelle.com or www.wsushows.com.

DEARBORN HEIGHTS presents “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’
The Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre presents the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” for one more weekend, 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 12. Performances are at the Berwyn Center, 26155 Richardson in Dearborn Heights. In addition to its Web site, dhctstage.org, the DHCT is on Facebook and Twitter: Facebook.com/dearbornheightscivictheatre, and twitter.com/dhctstage.

The cast includes: Aaron Adamkiewicz, George Bailey; Cathy Adamkiewicz, Mary Bailey; Jeanie Fraser, Mrs. Bailey; Tom Morgan, Mr. “Pop” Bailey; Camille Charar, Cousin Tilly; A.J. Adamkiewicz, Cousin Eustace; Kevin Gross, Clarence; Michelle Lennon, Jo; Nicole Jennings, Frankie; Mary Beth Beltowski, Annie; Chris Washburn, Harry Bailey; Daphne Philips, Ruth Bailey and Secretary; Catherine Parkins, Mrs. Hatch; Chris Klimchalk, Mr. Partridge, Nick and Dr. Campbell; Diana Nader, Violet Bick; Matthew Fraser, Mickey; Mary Charara, Potter’s Nurse and Miss Davis; Chris LaPointe, Bert; Corey Quinn, Ernie; Adnan Charara, Mr. Martini; Margaret Charara, Mrs. Martini; Mark Beltowski, Mr. Welch; Margaret Charara, “Charlie;” Catherine Parkins, Edna; Mark Beltowski, Randall; Mary Beth Beltowski, Mrs. Thompson and Bank Teller, John Adamkiewicz, Young George; Cole Haas, Young Harry; Joseph Lennon, Young Sam; Lia Bertucci, Young Violet; Grace Bertucci, Young Mary; Ian Jeannin, Pete Bailey; Natalie Beltowski, Janie Bailey, Victoria Lesniak, Zuzu Bailey; and Luke Adamkiewicz, Tommy Bailey.

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