Playwright should be defendant in this mixed 'Trial'

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- You'll likely need more than two hands to count the numerous adaptations of Charles Dickens' classic tale "A Christmas Carol."

Playwright Mark Brown has contributed to the lot by penning his relatively new play "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge."

Now how about we add "The Trial of Mark Brown" to the mix?

The charges include several counts of aiming for easy laughs with lame humor.

On the bright side, this courtroom comedy, on stage through Dec. 27 at Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, is receiving a finely-tuned production with impressive performances and other production elements, including eye-popping special effects.

The Playhouse production, directed with subtlety and an attention to detail by artistic director David Arisco, makes this at times amusing and entertaining, at times unoriginal play worth watching.

First off, do not, by any means, read the the script's back cover before seeing the show. Whoever wrote the "summary" of the play on the back cover ought to stand trial along with Brown. The individual gives away the ending, for Pete's sake!

So here's an actual synopsis WITHOUT spoilers.

It's been a year since the "Ghosts of Christmas" taught Scrooge various lessons in order to make him appreciate life, humanity and the spirit of Christmas. As anyone who's read "A Christmas Carol" knows, the lessons change Scrooge into a happy, giving, grateful man.

But for a reason Brown reveals at the end of the play, along with the verdict, Scrooge reverted back to his old miserly, miserable manner. He's sued his former business partner, the late Jacob Marley, as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future for alleged breaking and entering, kidnapping, slander, pain and suffering, attempted murder and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What made Scrooge change back to his former ways? Before you learn why, you'll need to sit through such attempts at humor as this exchange between the bailiff and Judge Stanchfield R. Pearson.

Bailiff: I haven't heard who's representing Mr. Scrooge.

Judge Pearson: He's representing himself.

Bailiff: Why?

Judge Pearson: Because he's cheap.

Ho, ho, ho, humbug. By the way, "bah humbug" are the words Scrooge utters when Pearson asks him if he has any opening remarks.

Then there's the constant, annoying interruptions from the bailiff, given only the name "Mr. Connolly." Apparently, he doesn't realize that his role is basically the judge's right-hand man, not an interjector of opinion on testimony.

At one point, Scrooge cross-examines Sara Wainwright, a solicitor and philanthropist.

Scrooge: How would you describe the weather here?

Sara Wainright: Perfect.

Bailiff (snorts). Perfect if you're a duck. Ducks love it here. It's cold and wet.

On the plus side, there's nice irony; the attorney for the defendants is represented by one Solomon Rothschild. So we have a Jewish man representing individuals who tried to instill the Christmas spirit into the miserly Scrooge, who previously hated Christmas.

Brown had already made it clear Rothschild's Jewish before the attorney starts playing with a dreidel and sining the song associated with the Jewish object. Those actions seems a bit corny and excessive.

There's some entertaining farcical humor involving the ghosts, but even then Brown aims for the easy laugh. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come enters for questioning, we learn he can only speak "Ghost." So this spirit needs a translator. The ghost utters some long-winded nonsensical noise before the translator provides a one-word translation. Brown can do better than that.

Thankfully, what's not cheap are the production elements, including the performances.

Arisco's smart directing choices include having Scrooge bang on Rothschild's table when trying to make a point. Also, Rothschild and Scrooge move around while addressing the court, which adds variety and interest to the production.

Neat special effects accompany the arrivals of the ghosts and Marley, whose voice produces an echo.

It all takes place in a London courtroom on Dec. 24, 1844. The room's complete with period detail such as fountain pen and ink. As rendered by set designer Gene Seyffer, the intimate upstairs, thrust-configured theater in which the play is performed is like an extension of the dark brown wooded courtroom; we feel like we're drawn into the world of the play.

Ellis Tillman's period, varied costumes perfectly suits the characters' personalities and stations in life, while Eric Nelson's lighting is appropriately otherworldly during the ghostly scenes.

The actors are convincing.

Kevin Reilley avoids the mistake of making Scrooge solely a mean, despicable man. He finds various shades in the character, flashing a wry smile here, a flair for the dramatic there. Reilley does this while still finding the grouch in his Scrooge.

Gregg Weiner captures the judge's commanding nature, while also conveying exasperation at Rothschild's constant overly polite manner in court.

Speaking of the defendants' attorney, John Felix has a natural, charming demeanor, as though he were an experienced attorney used to winning people over with his charm and charisma.

Other standouts include a scatterbrained, delicate Lindsey Corey as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Wayne LeGette as a creepy Jacob Marley.

Almost forgot: The play's title is misleading; this isn't the trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, but the trial of those he's accusing.

So, coupled with the play's other shortcomings, Brown's guilty...especially since he's an award-winning writer, whose works include the well-known "Around the World in 80 Days."

Let's hope he achieves better results for his next play and forget about sentencing. It's almost Christmas, the time of second chances and forgiveness...as Scrooge will certainly tell you.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge."

WHEN: Through Dec. 27

WHERE: Actors' Playhouse At The Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables.

For tickets, call 305-444-9293.