Charity here does indeed begin at home; the well-to-do home of Mr. and Mrs. Carroll on Queen Anne in historic Seattle, late nineteenth century or more precisely, the Carrolls’ kitchen.
You see, this marvelous, Dickensian tale of giving and receiving by present-day Seattlite and man of letters, Jeff Berryman, develops out of the plight of immigrants to our fair city at a time in her evolution when many arrived without a nickel to their names and grateful to find work in first-class homes like the Carrolls’. Also, naturally, the one room where such domestics were most likely to hang out telling their stories and just plain talking was, of course, the kitchen. “Carrolls” takes place there, at Christmas time, where everyone breaks bread together.
And what bread they break.
Beethovan Oden spark-plugs as Henry Rhodes; Afro-American, father-to-be of a second son, penniless ex-restauranteur owing to the Great Seattle Fire and newcomer chef to the Carrolls’ household. Oden’s Rhodes speaks as an angel and lives by that whereof he speaks. He is inspired, sensible, funny, substantial.
Scott Nolte is the Scrooge-derivative, Mr. Christopher Carroll. However, Berryman writes in more, and Nolte gets more out of Mr. Carroll than is in the Dickens’ prototype. This Carroll is formidable and persuasive, yet alive inside his city coat of hard varnish.
Sam Lai provides particularly powerful moments as a Chinese immigrant living underground and in fear of deportation according to the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Judy A. Young as Etta Collins, a kind of literary descendant of Faulkner’s Dilsey, anchors the turbulent times that swirl around outside and eventually work their way inside and catch up everybody. Young’s Collins is focused, enduring; less an initiating agent than a stabilizing presence.
Montana von Fliss is the rather quiet, introverted Scandinavian immigrant who accelerates to an ear-drum-shattering volume of voice when she gets nervous. Tags for characters often wear out as they wear on; not this one, Fliss’s is funny.
Hilary Pickles is the Irish immigrant who makes good marrying the Carrolls’ family doctor. Robert Martin is a thickheaded, big-hearted Norwegian immigrant and the Carrolls’ coachman.
Kudos to Scott Nolte. He not only plays a part, he also directs this fine cast and beyond that, also so much as laid out guidelines and dared playwright Berryman to write this play, it’s a good one.
For some surprises, a little local color and history and a lot of laughs and inspiration, give this one a try. It is billed in sub title as “A Victorian Tale of Old Seattle.” It will make a believer out of you.