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The Land of Everywhere/A Christmas Carol 

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THE LAND OF EVERYWHERE

Temporary Theatre Company

at the Mayfair United Methodist Church

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Avenue Productions, with Kinetic Theatre

at the Avenue Theatre

The Temporary Theatre Company, after "evaluating current economic trends and recognizing that Chicago's north side is inundated with off-loop theatre," has set out for the frontier of Six Corners, bringing dramatic entertainment to the people of the northwest side. This production inaugurates the theater's new home in the basement of the Mayfair United Methodist Church, located just east of the junction of the Kennedy and Edens expressways.

The Land of Everywhere borrows from The Wizard of Oz--a debt acknowledged when a character tells the hero, "This isn't the Emerald City you're in." The play begins with two actors preparing to perform a play in a church basement in Chicago, only to be interrupted by a sour-faced Janitor who informs them that they are not on the building schedule, and who cares about theater, anyway? To teach him a lesson one of the actors hypnotizes him, sending him off to the Land of Everywhere. Here the naive Janitor finds a world in great need of cleaning up: the Anybodies and the Everybodies are at war, each side claiming to possess a secret weapon that will blow Everywhere into Nowhere. Their chronic enmity has been fueled by an evil spell brewed by the Nasties (actually only one creature, but addressed in the plural because of its four arms, four legs, and two heads), whose diabolical kitchen is guarded by the mysterious Boredome and her vulpine sidekick, Gloomus. Though his initial wish is to return to his suddenly comfortable-seeming workplace, the young Janitor accepts the mission of breaking the spell. This he accomplishes with some advice from the absentminded Nobody and the aid of his training as a janitor (lending a new dignity to that profession) and his prowess as a rapper and break dancer. Saving the world is not an activity confined to imagination, however, and upon returning to the church the Janitor and the actors discover the wisdom of cooperation and mutual respect.

The Land of Everywhere is not a holiday show per se--there's not a wreath or a dreidel in sight--and could probably play as well, if not better, at a time other than the height of the festival stress. (The day I attended there were more children hanging by the door, coming or going or waiting to do so, than sitting in the audience). The message that we are all in this world together and must work with one another to preserve it, even when that means putting aside our own selfish interests, would be no less relevant in another season. Nor is the news that even the humblest of citizens may have hidden talents a bulletin that should be restricted to the year's end.

Josh White III (grandson of the legendary folk artist) taps into his talents as a composer--with Robert C. Williams, he wrote The Land of Everywhere--and as a singer, dancer, and mime in his portrayal of the Janitor. He is enthusiastically assisted by the multivoiced Linda LeVeque and Vincent Raye, who play the entire population of Everywhere, including two full armies. One-woman orchestra Kim Swinton plays keyboard, chimes, electric bass, cymbals, maracas, finger bells, slide whistle, and other things that make noise when hit, shaken, or blown into.

The naivete is premeditated in Avenue Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Michael Paller from the story by Charles Dickens. Paller puts a novel spin on the well-known fable: in this version Dickens is trying to write a story for a holiday party with his family and friends. He's been prodded into this project by a challenge from a friend ("Uncle Porpoise") but is handicapped by the ghost of the boy he once was--the boy's criticism keeps the writer honest. Failing in his inspiration, Dickens devises a game in which the partygoers--seasoned veterans of amateur musicales and entertainments got up for charitable causes--will improvise their own Christmas story with makeshift props and costumes and only bare-bones guidance from their host.

The premise of this Christmas Carol is perfectly suited to the Avenue cast: though professionally trained, they retain an energetic if sometimes a bit awkward exuberance. Dennis Carl's skillful direction means that only the slightest suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept the unlikely performance within a performance and the svelte, smooth-faced appearance of youthful players in roles that call for something else. (The exception is Scrooge, played by the owlish Jeff Niles with his usual skilled assurance.) The illusion of extempore performance gives a new vigor to the familiar words and an engaging, ingenuous charm to a classic tale.

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