A Farndale Farce

The Farndale series version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ takes center stage at Westfield Playhouse

Comedy ensues as Kelli Conkin, from left, Bobbi Van Howe, Grace White, Wade Lovell and Tonya Fenimore act in The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Production of A Christmas Carol.

Kate Hinman sits in the back of the room watching intentional madness take place on the stage in front of her. As props fly across the stage, she writes down notes and during a brief set break she yells one out.

“Slow down, we’re missing a bunch of jokes because you’re talking too fast,” the director warns her cast during a recent rehearsal.

While being comfortable orchestrating the mayhem on stage, Hinman said it has been more than 26 years since she last directed a full show.

“It’s been a number of years and I like directing. Most of the time I’m acting,” she said. “It’s like I never left it. I’ve learned from directors I have had.”

Being around the stage is Hinman’s love. Her first job was as a lightening tech in her high school auditorium.

“I come from a tech background,” she says proudly. “Theater is my fun.”

The last time Hinman directed a show, she met her husband, who died of lung cancer in March. While the two were together they spent many nights on stage and being involved in productions.

“We had that in our blood,” said Hinman. “I love theater, it’s been very therapeutic.”

In a festive mood, the ladies of the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society mount another assault on the classics with their stage version of “A Christmas Carol.” They enthusiastically portray a dizzy array of characters from the Dickensian favorite (and a few which aren’t), engineer some novel audience participation while bravely contending with an intrusive PA system.

“It’s very funny,” said Hinman. “I love British humor.”

“It’s a great way to start off your Christmas season with a laugh,” said Bobbi Van Howe, who plays Mercedes.

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society has a series of plays – this being the holiday one. If you haven’t seen a Farndale production before its OK, Hinman explained.

“There are five or six. Each play stands on its own,” she said.

This show also marks the first Farndale experience for all the cast members, who portray a main character and four to five others in this “play within a play,” which is prop heavy and includes several costume changes.

“I’ve done real heavy duty roles lately. This is my first time to do a comedy in awhile,” said Kelli Conkin, who plays Mrs. Reece. “It’s like standup comedy for me.”

“We all talk in a British accent,” said actress Grace White. “There’s no fourth wall and it’s neat to be a part of that – having direct interaction with the audience.”

Adding to the stress of the live show is its timetable. Only four weeks were allotted between auditions and opening night.

“It’s been a little rushed, but I have got the most fabulous cast. We want it to be fun put on a quality production that Main Street Productions is known for,” said Hinman. “The cast has just been so enthusiastic.”

Van Howe, an experienced actress, described the show’s rehearsal schedule as “unprecedented.”

“Usually you have six or seven weeks,” she said. “Typically you aren’t off-book until the end. We’re off-book more quickly. Everything’s done in a shorter period of time because we have no choice.”

“It’s all been intense,” said Tonya Fenimore, who plays Thelma.

Assisting with the short rehearsal schedule is the show’s plot: a group of british women with time on their hands have created a dramatic guild and periodically put on shows. They know next to nothing about theater and all that can go wrong does.

“This is one of those shows that if something happens it’ll fit in,” White said.

“We’re all veterans so we’ve all done this before,” said Wade Lovell, who plays Gordon, the lone male in the cast.

“You just act,” explained Conkin. “If you miss something, someone will catch you with this group.”

Thelma (Tonya Fenimore) as Ebenezer Scrooge tells Mercedes (Bobbi Van Howe), who is playing a little boy, to fetch the Christmas Goose for him.

The Basics

What: The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Production of A Christmas Carol

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 7 and 8; 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 9

Where: Westfield Playhouse, 1836 W. Ind. 32.

Cast: Kelli Conkin (Mrs. Reece), Bobbi Van Howe (Mercedes), Grace White (Felicity), Tonya Fenimore (Thelma) and Wade Lovell (Gordon)

Crew: The show is directed by Kate Hinman with assistance from producer/asst. director Linda Hazelgrove. The crew consists of Cayley Fenimore, Ryan Conkin, Cody Fenimore, Doug Stanton, John Sampson and Tom Corbett.

Plot: A group of British women with time on their hands have created a dramatic guild and periodically put on shows. They know next to nothing about theater and all that can go wrong does. They are presenting “A Christmas Carol” and the laughs are non-stop.

Tickets: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students. Tickets may be reserved by calling 896-2707. For more information, visit www.westfieldplayhouse.org.

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