Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


This was my first viewing of the Matrix Theater's three-year Puppet Scrooge franchise, so although the original 2007 script was purported to be further adapted and updated, I can't say what was old and what was new. Despite the promise of new and improved, the production I saw was a bit lacking in energy; admittedly, the bare-bones matinee audience may have had a hand in that. At its heart, though, I still felt there was something missing — yes, there are puppets, and there is Scrooge, but the two have trouble coexisting.

The root of this production's weaknesses may be in an adaptation that has trouble maintaining a point of view. Occasionally preachy and abrupt, it also spends a lot of time wandering deep in the vignettes presented by Scrooge's three spirits. On the one hand, the writers take liberties with changing characters' names and genders (most notably, this Scrooge is a woman), and add minor animal characters that watch the action and add punchlines, Statler and Waldorf–style. On the other, its lockstep devotion to the original story's structure and minor plots limit the exploration of these changes and muddle what could have been a freer adaptation. Moreover, in order to showcase the types of puppetry used, including hand puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets, and a brief appearance by marionettes, Scrooge is often pushed to the edges of the stage, silent instead of interactive, and her path toward repentance is harder to track as a result.

Most of the ten actors use both acting and puppetry to portray a handful of characters each, and the cast's aptitude with puppets varies. When puppet and human characters shared the stage, however, the puppets generally couldn't match up. The two strongest characters of the play were both human: Daniel Jaroslaw as Jacob Marley was alive with suffering and foreboding, and Katie Galazka's Ghost of Present rhymed and jibed, all the while hiding a deeper message. As the miser Pecunia Scrooge, Bridget Michael relied on exclamations and physical tics to propel the character, a cartoonish portrayal that didn't go far enough to be completely satirical.

It's difficult to even picture ten people treading the Matrix's small stage all at once. However, with masterfully efficient arrangement of a few set elements (conceived by Michelle Leinon Becker and director Jaclyn Strez), the space seemed much larger, and the possibilities for staging and tableaux seemed inexhaustible. New puppets were designed and created by Diane Boatman, Marty Boatman, Megan Harris, Mary Luevanos, Fran Marschone, and Rebecca Young — the different puppet types each have their own look, providing constant visual stimulation with appeal for young audiences. While not exactly a puppet, the Ghost of Future's reveal truly astounded me; the presentation of that character was far and away the most inventive of the show.

The aim of Puppet Scrooge may be to simplify and energize the story enough for kids to relate while also giving adults a taste of the familiar, but the two never quite merge into a cohesive whole. Compartmentalized as it is, the story seems too diffuse for young viewers to follow, but they should enjoy the fanciful staging regardless. Yet the heavy reliance on puppets makes for a final product in which Scrooge's heartwarming dedication to others is of little consequence. Further updates and adaptations may lead to the playful but hard-hitting fable that's hinted at in the present iteration.


Post a Comment