Monday, December 10, 2012

Bag&Baggage's 'A Christmas Carol' Twist

Farndale Avenue in Hillsboro

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Hillsboro’s Bag and Baggage Theatre Company prides itself on its ability to “push the envelope and defy expectations.” There is no question that “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen Guild’s Dramatic Society’s Production of a Christmas Carol” (aka “TFAHETGDSPOACC”) defied any expectations we may have had as we entered the elegant interior of the Venetian Theatre – despite the fact that we had never seen a Bag and Baggage production, and therefore had no idea what to expect!

Prior to last Friday, we had not been faced with the challenge of evaluating the merits of a show that is built exclusively and overtly on the absence of any theatrical merit. However, as director Scott Palmer makes clear in his notes, and the company in its performance, TFAHETGDSPOACC’s goal is to transcend “serious theatre into farce,” and to achieve this goal via the “abysmal acting” of a drama troupe consisting of “women playing men’s parts, and all of them doing it dreadfully” – with the added twist that four of the five women playing men are actually men playing women playing men.

Driving home, mulling over what we had seen, we realized that as the show’s only goal was to make its audience laugh, the Bag and Baggage production was a raging success. The very full house was convulsed with laughter throughout the evening as Farndale thespians Thelma Greenwood (Ian Armstrong), Mrs. Phoebe Reece (Patrick Spike), Mercedes Blower (Sean Powell), Gordon Pugh (Rosalind Fell), and Felicity Boleyn Stafford (Tylor Neist) did their best to destroy Dickens’ ubiquitous Christmas classic with vile makeup, terrible costuming, an appalling set, bizarre (and bizarrely utilized) props, horrendous accents, mediocre singing (to be fair, they sang a lot better than they danced), and a level of physical comedy that would put the Three Stooges to shame. The humorous effect was heightened by a steady stream of local references (there is a surprising amount of comic potential in the word “Aloha” to a Hillsboro audience, and references to the Woodburn Outlet Mall and Gresham were similarly received – one wonders how they overlooked the hilarity that is Beaverton!).

While TFAHETGDSPOACC is clearly an ensemble show, we cannot fail to mention the astonishing performance of Mrs. Phoebe Reece, who set the tone for the entire performance (and entertained us while the majority of her cast members were allegedly stuck in traffic on “Television Highway”). The bounteous, strident and overbearing Mrs. Reece was as comfortable kibitzing with the audience as she was commanding her ill-prepared thespian troops, and her performance set the tone for an evening of brazen theatrical excess.

Despite the show’s determination to give its audience a truly terrible evening of theatre, Bag and Baggage provided quality where it counts. The crew/production team never missed a beat, and the sound, lighting, make-up/wigs/costuming, and props delivered with a professionalism that belied and enhanced the “dreadful amateur” shtick of the production. Fans of Monty Python, Benny Hill, “Fawlty Towers,” or “Keeping Up Appearances” will recognize and appreciate the lovely ladies of Farndale Avenue for bringing such an over-the-top slice of British farce to the Greater Hillsboro area. We are grateful to Scott Palmer and Bag and Baggage for undertaking this noble work.

“TFAHETGDSPOACC” is playing at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St. Hillsboro through December 23rd.

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