Katie McFadzen left a bag of dishes on my doorstep. It was a small bag, but the dishes were nice. I tried to return them to her.
“You can’t do this,” I told her. “I’m a theater critic. You’re an actor. It’s not done.”
Katie McFadzen rolled her eyes. It was an actorly eye roll. It referenced Pinter, I thought. Maybe Albee.
“This isn’t ethical,” I explained. Katie McFadzen leaned close to me. “I like dishware,” she said. “You like dishware. Dishes aren’t ethical.”
I looked again at the dishes. They were a very rare Harkerware pattern from the 1930s. A pattern I collect. How did Katie McFadzen know this about me?
I tried once more. “We can’t be friends. You’ll give a shitty performance in something one day, and I’ll have to say so in print. And then we won’t be friends any more.”
Katie McFadzen shrugged. It was a Brechtian shrug, full of ennui and detachment. “So I’ll do a lousy job and you’ll write about what a crappy actress I am. Big deal.”
That was 10 or 12 years ago. Maybe 15. I’ve been waiting ever since to see Katie McFadzen do a lousy job onstage, so I could say so and prove my point. I saw her in The Women, hoping she’d suck. She didn’t. I thought she might fall on her face in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, or screw up her part in Year of the Rooster, or maybe forget her lines in The Great Gatsby. Nope.
When I read that Katie McFadzen was appearing in a one-woman production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, one she’d adapted herself from the original text with the help of director Matthew Wiener, I figured I’d struck pay dirt. Who, I thought, could pull off playing bitchy Mrs. Cratchit, sickly-sweet Tiny Tim, and that blowhard Ghost of Christmas Present, while also making something of Dickens’ 173-year-old narration?
It turns out that Katie McFadzen could.
Her A Christmas Carol, now on stage at Tempe Center for the Arts, manages to be more than a recitation, even while it quotes great hunks of the Dickens novella. Rather than inhabit each character, McFadzen describes them with distinct voices and slightly altered stature. It’s a subtle trick that elevates this 80-minute adaptation, turning a how-did-she-do-that curiosity into a tidy entertainment.
Although she’s the only one on stage, McFadzen isn’t alone. The Childsplay production, an expanded version of one she did two years ago at the Herberger, is enlivened by Paul A. Black’s scenic and lighting design, recreated beautifully here by designer Cody Soper. Simple backdrops — a sky full of chandeliers; a forest of snow-blighted trees — appear behind McFadzen, whose charming performances distract us from whatever theater magic has swapped the scenery. Kish Finnegan’s elaborate costume designs help inform the people who wear them, and sound designer Brian Jerome Peterson fills Soper’s endless billows of smoke with clanking and clumping that makes McFadzen’s telling all the more real, and that much more entertaining.
This Christmas, I’m returning Katie McFadzen’s dishes.
A Christmas Carol continues through December 24 at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway. Call 480-350-2822 or visit childsplayaz.org.