Star City Playhouse kicks off the area’s holiday theater season with its final production, the adaptation of a novella by that peerless 19th-century English storyteller, Charles Dickens.
The play’s 1848 source is “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas-Time,” also known over the decades as “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain,” “The Haunted Man” and perhaps other titles, as well. It is one of a series that includes the far better-known “A Christmas Carol.”
Star City’s hour-long version, simply called “The Bargain,” is by Star City’s playwright-in-residence, Karon Sue Semones. With her husband, artistic director Marlow Ferguson, she also is co-founder of the playhouse.
But to the play. It centers on Professor Redlaw, a respected scholar known also for his kindness to students outside the classroom. Despite outward appearances, the professor is bedeviled by tortuous memories, including the loss of loved ones. When a ghostly apparition offers relief — the erasure from his memory of sorrow, wrongs committed and received and other troubles — Redlaw reluctantly accepts.
Disaster immediately ensues. Unpleasant memories begin to vanish from all those around the young teacher. But so do kindness, civility and even love. Destructive behavior abounds. It turns out that we need our memories, good and bad.
But wait. This is a Christmas tale. Remember the story of Scrooge? Isn’t a round of redemption, Dickens-style, in order? For the answer, you’ll need to see the play.
Joe Francis plays Professor Redlaw. Appearing with him as various friends, relatives and associates of Redlaw are Jesse Womack, Hazel Dayze, Latriva Pierce, Christy Remy, Matthew Newcomb, Julian Delgado, Barbara Lynn, Mo Aulick, Lucas Majors Pickett, Bob Toven and Alex Lyons. The actors’ levels of experience range from extensive to none.
According to the show’s playbill, Ferguson is an Equity actor with years of experience in New York theater. His wife holds two bachelor’s degrees in writing from Hollins University and a master’s degree from Brooklyn University. The couple moved from the Northeast to Roanoke and launched Star City Playhouse in the former Pete Moore warehouse on Williamson Road in 2004. After other stops, including at least one church basement, the playhouse settled in Vinton.
Star City shows have varied in quality and have clearly lacked the resources needed for slicker productions — costuming, lighting, scenery, etc. But the company has become known for its pluck and adherence to its goals of affordable community theater and training for aspiring actors.
Unfortunately, Ferguson faces serious health issues and cannot continue his labor of love, according to Semones. The curtain will fall on Star City Playhouse after “The Bargain” completes its run.