Zoe Speas and Adam Segaller.
BOTTOM LINE: A unique holiday show that resurrects the art of live Christmas storytelling.
In the simpler, less technologically-abundant era of Charles Dickens, it was once a tradition at the holidays to sit around a fire and listen to otherworldly tales. It’s not surprising given that séances, mediums, and the afterlife were areas of fascination for the corseted 19th-century set. In that vein, this wintry season RadioTheatre presents six supernatural Christmas stories from Ye Olde Manhattan and other parts, told and performed by a quartet of three men and one woman.
As it turns out, the company is not doing, as I had thought, a radio show along the lines of the legendary War of the Worlds broadcast. Their approach utilizes storytelling, enhanced by a musical score, sound effects, and minimal visuals. The set is just chairs and podiums although there is a giant painting of a hooded skull against the back wall to set the mood.
While we wait for the evening to get underway I note that the theatre has a touch of the Dickensian and could do with a real roaring hearth for us to warm ourselves against. But with the lights down we are transported via the mellifluous voice of Frank Zilinyi to 1880s New York during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. The main character (played by Adam Segaller, who portrays his share of troubled souls during the production) down on his luck, must make his way through treacherous conditions as he seeks some food and cheer at a mission on a desolate, frigid night. Along the way he encounters a mysterious homeless girl (Zoe V. Speas) at different points as he struggles to reach his destination. The story, like most on the bill, has more of an undercurrent of pathos than actual spookiness.
Of course the man of the hour gets a turn as the talented troupe introduces the beginning of A Christmas Carol, “the most famous ghost story from across the sea,” according to Zilinyi. He treats the audience to a very compelling and urgent ghost of Jacob Marley who warns R. Patrick Alberty’s Scrooge of the coming visits from beyond. I would have enjoyed more of the Dickens since those phantoms are meant to truly terrify.
The final tale is more wistful and uplifting, as those who pass through an inn are granted a wish. The protagonist (Alberty) chooses to ask for love as he tries to get to a Christmas party and a friend’s sister (Speas). Although I was expecting more chills with the spectral visitors, it was a novel way to experience storytelling and old fashioned entertainment.
(Ghosts of Christmas Past plays at The Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street, through 1.12.14. Remaining performances are Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 21 at 8 PM, and Sunday, December 22 and 29, at 3 PM.Tickets are $18, $15 for students, and are available at SmartTix, either online at www.SmartTix.com or by calling 212.868.4444. For more information visit www.radiotheatrenyc.com.)