The World Premiere of “A Carol for Cleveland” at Cleveland Play House A Touching Postcard from Cleveland
By Marjorie Preston
The World Premiere Cleveland Play House production of “A Carol for Cleveland” by Eric Coble based on the novella by mystery author Les Roberts, is a touching postcard from the gritty side of 1970s Cleveland at Christmastime, with a few clever nods to Dickens. “A Carol for Cleveland” will leave a lump in your throat.
When steelworker Ed Podolak (Charles Kartali) steps off the bus from Western Pennsylvania, where he’s left his wife, Diane (Anjanette Hall) and two kids while searching for work, his journey has an inauspicious beginning as he immediately slips on black ice and ends up flat on his back. His reaction to the event, however, portends a happy ending, as the narrator, This Guy (Stephen Spencer) notes: “Ed Podolak got back up.”
Not that life will be easy for Ed Podolak – this modern-day Scrooge looks for work but tends to think he’s wasting his time living off pumpernickel and peanut butter and that he might as well keep leaving his family behind and struggle alone. Back in the 70s, among the colorful cast of characters Ed meets while staying in one of Cleveland’s seediest hotels is an old road dog friend of Ed’s named Jake Wilkins (Robert Ellis), who stops in to the seedy hotel just long enough to rob it. Through a series of 60s flashbacks, we see happier Christmases past, when Ed meets his wife, attends parties with friends, or finds out he will be a father.
When Ed, at his lowest point, is estranged from his family and desperate enough to steal from a Salvation Army kettle at Public Square, he is fortunate to meet a perceptive kid named Charlie Torbic (Elliot Lockshine) who notices his transgression. Along with Charlie’s mother, Helen (Lena Kaminsky) and father, Steve (Ellis, in a dual role), Charlie and family take Ed in for the evening, feed him and try to help him find his way back.
Kartali is perfectly cast as Ed, the working man who makes questionable financial and personal decisions. Hall is sweet and effervescent as Diane, becoming exasperated with Ed’s pride. Ellis brings humor, versatility and believability to his roles as Jake and Steve, and Kaminsky is wonderfully trusting and kind as Helen.
Director Laura Kepley takes us on the journey of a desperate man who needs to find his way home, and she does so handily, with a winning cast and heartwarming script. Set Designer Antje Ellermann’s crowning jewels are the many screens showing projected scenes of Cleveland with animated but realistic snow falling that find the beauty in the stark, cold landscape. Some set pieces are simple – a couch, a chair – and others are clever, revolving set pieces such as those used in Ed Podolak’s seedy hotel.
“A Carol for Cleveland” has all the right elements to be a holiday success: a solid, gritty, and genuinely funny script from the minds of two of Cleveland’s most talented writers and a touching, family-friendly storyline.
“A Carol for Cleveland” runs Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, December 13th at 1:30 p.m. and Thursday, December 20th at 7:30 p.m. through December 23rd in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. For tickets, call (216) 241-6000 or (866)546-1353 or visit www.playhousesquare.org.