It’s easy to have mixed feelings about the “holiday classics.” After all, there’s nothing for reducing the impact of a decent story like mind-numbing seasonal repetition, and that does tend to be what holiday classics are all about — familiarity revisited. And while I’m being a bit of a Scrooge, let me add that there’s something particularly questionable about Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim’s a shameless piece of emotional manipulation, and the fact that Scrooge becomes the hero at the end always struck me as too easy a way out.
But somehow none of my usual reservations about the story surfaced during this admittedly uneven, ramshackle production. Director Asa Olsson has assembled a large cast of Carpinteria locals, and they are clearly having a good time. So are their friends in the audience, who happily munched away on popcorn, sipped libations from the concession stand, and hooted and hollered when recognizable town figures like Carter Hampton as the spirit of Christmas Present and Laura Manriquez as Mrs. Cratchit made their entrances. More so than any other theater in the area, including even the redoubtable Circle Bar B, the Plaza Playhouse revives the feeling and ambience of another time, one in which the town came together for theatricals that were half play, half party, and truly fun for all ages. So what if the changeovers were sometimes slow and there were babies crying and people dozing in their seats. The overall effect was joyous, and the very presence of such an organization indicates that family-oriented local theater has some life in it yet.