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Tradition, Romping and Risk 

Holiday shows comfort and History challenges

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John Jakes' adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at Ferndale Repertory Theatre uses Dickens himself as the narrator — a relatively small departure from the traditional telling and those seeking a familiar holiday experience will feel at home.

It's an ensemble effort with cast members taking on multiple roles, which can be a bit confusing. Tom Ford is a dapper Dickens; it would be nice if the script incorporated him into the story more. As Scrooge, Charlie Beck is fun to watch, if a bit level, and Aaron Skaarup stands out for his energetic and clear-spoken portrayal of Scrooge's nephew Fred. The set, designed by Raymond Gutierrez, toes an interesting line between the realistic and the abstract. The well-designed set pieces accurately evoke Victorian England, and many do double duty for smooth scene transitions. However, the action plays out on a completely black stage that sucks up some of the energy of the actors. A backdrop like a village skyline could go a long way toward bringing this world together. Costume designer Shenae Bishop assists in that area by providing some really lovely period dress.

As a whole, the production is a safe retelling of a well-loved classic appropriate for the whole family. The run continues through Dec. 21 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 and $14 for students and seniors.

If your group includes young children (or those of any age who tend to think theater is boring), Dell'Arte's touring production of Pippi Longstocking may be for you. Adapted by the ensemble from the original books by Astrid Lindgren, the show packs all of the strong characters and impressive Dell'Arte physicality into just over an hour.

The story centers on the joy of play — good, old-fashioned running around, playing tag and climbing trees. Pippi, pigtailed and precocious, is an eternal child who delivers the sort of wisdom children seem particularly good at accessing. In the title role, Alyssa Hughlett is perfectly charming at every flip and turn with the rest of the ensemble providing solid support. Each character is cartoonishly unique, assisted by delightful costumes designed by Lydia Foreman as well as some traditional masks. The overall design uses the bright, primary colors and clean lines of a picture-book world. With cleverly transforming scaffolding, scenic designer Lynnie Horrigan has effectively created a jungle gym for the actors to play on, and they do not waste her efforts. The entire structure is climbed, crawled and flipped upon, showing off the cast's acrobatic prowess — particularly Hughlett as Pippi. Tim Gray, with support from the ensemble, has created delightful original music that is well-integrated into the story. Be prepared to hum the tunes days later. That's the fun of a show you can really get into. The audience I sat with had many in the under-6 set and one small dog; interjections were made, rhetorical questions were answered. The cast rolled along with all of it for a relaxed and refreshing evening.

Pippi Longstocking tours through Dec. 20 with some free public performances. For more information, visit www.dellarte.com or call 668-5663.

It's a risk to go see an unfamiliar show, making original plays a bit of a hard sell. However, like finding hidden treasures at the flea market, sometimes the effort pays off. The End of History, an original work devised by students and staff at Humboldt State University, is one such play. Taking the events of 1989 as a loose jumping off point, what emerges is a timeless piece about political maneuvering and social struggle.

The stage is nearly empty, with projections and fog dreamily evoking various locations. Movement, monologues and scenes weave together to create an engaging and thought-provoking story. It is a slow process; the beginning scenes feel disjointed and it takes a moment to catch on to how everything fits together. This could be an intentional choice and it is not ineffective as it adds to the surrealism. To speak too much to the plot would change the effect, but some trust is required here. The cast is uniformly strong and includes new faces to the HSU stage. Thsnat Berhe opens the show with a particularly powerful monologue. There are a number of fantastic dance pieces choreographed by Nadia Adame, but Isabella Ceja's arrangements particularly stand out. The End of History has a youthful voice and a powerful message. In what are undeniably turbulent times it is one worth listening to.

Directed by Shea King and Mark Swetz, the production runs through Dec. 14 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee Sunday at 2 p.m. in Gist Hall Theatre at HSU, tickets are $10, $8 students and seniors.

Now Playing:

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. A high-energy cast and big, catchy musical numbers drown out awkward anachronisms in this corporate satire. At North Coast Repertory Theatre through Dec. 13. 442-6278.

Opening:

Character Projects. A flurry of original 10-minute plays by Dell'Arte masters students. At the Carlo Theatre from Dec. 11 through Dec. 14. 668-5663.

Get cracking. North Coast Dance Studio brings back the annual ballet classic The Nutcracker from Dec. 12 through Dec. 17 at the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts. 442-1956.

The story goes east for Nutcracker: Arabian Nights with belly dancing and lavish costumes at Redwood Raks on Saturday, Dec. 13 and Sunday, Dec. 14. 616-6876.

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