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Christmas Goosed 

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & Christmas Carol is about participating in the lives of the people around us, so why not incorporate a little audience participation into a theatrical retelling of Dickens' tale?

Of course, Interplayers' A Reduced Christmas Carol, or, Scrooge vs. the Stopwatch (through Dec. 23) presents something less like a simple retelling and more like a Cliff's Notes version on espresso and uppers.

First it crams the classic story into just 15 minutes -- then five, then just one. Along the way, four actors take on more than 14 roles -- everything from Scrooge's nephew to the ghost of Jacob Marley. But the acting demands would be a bit more bearable if only they had a few volunteers. For example, the crucial roles of Gentleman One and Gentleman Two are wide open. That's why director Ann Whiteman's troupe is going to transform a couple of spectators into actors, right on the spot, by means of a very public (and no doubt thoroughly embarrassing) audition.

"With the auditioning, we're giving people a bit of an inside look at the entertainment business," Whiteman says. "We plan to embarrass them about not having their props, about their lack of preparation, their poor diction -- all the things that happen to actors in the theater."

So the audience participation will amount to partaking in the theatrical process itself. "The audience will get the idea that they're in a rehearsal, and that they're waiting for the real performance to begin and for the real costumes to arrive," says Whiteman, laughing.

Playgoers will be encouraged to imitate the rattling of Jacob Marley's chains, for example, by holding up their car keys and shaking them. By participating, Whiteman says, "the audience is taking delight in changing this disagreeable person Scrooge back to being a generous person. By making all the ghostly noises and shaking their keys, everybody becomes part of the same punishment system, if you will."

The cast features John Hart and Maynard Villers, both veterans of the original cast who first did this show on New Year's Eve in 2001-02 for First Night. Hart will perform the roles of Bob Cratchit and the ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Future; Villers will play Scrooge's nephew and three other roles. The two other cast members will assume important parts, even if they are newbies to this production: Reed McColm will play Scrooge, and Patrick Treadway will play all the female roles, including Scrooge's sister, Scrooge's fianc & eacute;e and Mrs. Cratchit.

Whiteman recently ran her acting quartet through the sped-up one-minute version of Dickens' story 20 times, one after another -- "and we haven't even brought in the stopwatch yet," she says. "It's fun watching the actors underestimate the pace. That one-minute bit is hard to get right. We've taken to likening the one-minute version to cheerleading -- they have to do all these motions in a very rapid and exact sequence. They're moving so fast, they have no time to get wigs on their heads -- so they just hold them up next to their heads."

Interplayers' Reduced Christmas Carol will feature family-friendly pricing -- just $2 for kids. As for adults, says Whiteman, "I begged [board president] Jim McCurdy for a $10 ticket price. We want to help them address their back debt. He's very brave to lower ticket prices like this, to bring families in. At least we'll help them pay some bills."

The whole idea is for families out shopping for Christmas presents to come in from the cold, just for an hour, and participate in a "very irreverent" send-up of a beloved Yuletide tale. As Whiteman says, "First we give you 15 minutes of real Dickens. And then we totally degrade it."

Spokane Interplayers Ensemble, 174 S. Howard St., presents A Reduced Christmas Carol on Thursday, Dec. 14, at 7 pm; Friday, Dec. 15, at 7 pm; Saturday, Dec. 16, at 2 pm and 7 pm; Sunday, Dec. 17, at 2 pm; Wednesday, Dec. 20, at 2 pm and 7 pm; Thursday, Dec. 21, at 7 pm; and on Friday-Saturday, Dec. 22-23, at 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets: $10; $8, seniors, students and military; $2, children. Visit or call 455-PLAY.

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