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MORE KID STUFF : Rustling 'The Pickwick Papers'

December 05, 1991|CORINNE FLOCKEN

You've got your aerosol snow and your surfin' Santas, but the real starting gun for the Orange County holiday season is the arrival of the out-of-town guests. They come by the Winnebago-ful, swapping thermal undies for muscle pants and packing a bottomless bag of family anecdotes, most of them about folks you haven't seen since your last serious bout with acne.

By contrast, the members of Troupe America, a touring company headquartered in Minneapolis, are the ideal visitors. They don't clutter up the house, they never make catty remarks about your weight and their stories are as rich and colorful as--and able to inspire the warmth of--an old-fashioned Christmas. The company will present "Mr. Pickwick's Stories for a Christmas Evening," a montage of holiday tales and songs, on Saturday at Fullerton's Plummer Auditorium and Sunday at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

Russ Konstans, a 26-year-old actor from Chicago, stars as Samuel Pickwick, a hale and hearty fellow based on the character from Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers." During the two-hour show, he and his dear Auntie Margaret Bounderby Pickwick (Rosalie Tenseth) offer holiday amusements suitable for adults and children as young as 5.

Actually, Konstans said by phone, "we treat the audience as if they were guests in the Pickwick household. The whole theater is my house."

Fifteen minutes before curtain, the "guests" are greeted by costumed carolers while the effervescent Pickwick and Auntie Margaret mingle, chatting cozily. As the show begins, the Pickwicks, who have been joined by eight more company members, propose a bit of holiday storytelling, beginning with a dramatized version of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (better known as " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas") by Clement Clark Moore and an excerpt from "The Pickwick Papers."

After intermission (and a chance to sample some of Auntie Margaret's famous holiday cookies) and some audience participation caroling, the evening continues with a retelling of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

Throughout the storytelling, actors switch back and forth between their party-goer characters and their roles in the tales themselves. Props are pulled in a seemingly spontaneous way from the stage (the Ghost of Christmas Past, for example, rises from a parlor curtain). "We give the feeling that we're just having a party and making up stories," Konstans said.

Costumes and settings for the show--which is set on Christmas Eve, 1865, in Pickwick's country estate--are "lush and elegant," he added. "One of the most frequent comments we hear from people is how Dickens everything looks, how it's almost like a living postcard. We want audiences to leave with that kind of pretty picture in their heads."

Adapted by David Simmons from a concept by Simmons, Bill Fegan and Troupe America founder Curt Wollman, "Mr. Pickwick's Stories" is in its fifth year on the road. The current tour will cover nine states, stopping in cities that range in size from St. George, Utah, to Pasadena, before it concludes Dec. 21. (The Midwestern cast, which recently weathered a nasty ice storm in South Dakota, is especially looking forward to its Southern California stops, Konstans said.)

Since its inception in 1984, Troupe America has mounted and toured productions of "A Child's Christmas in Wales," "Forbidden Broadway" and "The Lovely Liebowitz Sisters" in all 50 states and four Canadian provinces. This weekend's performances mark the company's Orange County debut.

What: "Mr. Pickwick's Stories for a Christmas Evening."

When: Saturday, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Robert B. Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa, on Saturday; the Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, on Sunday.

Whereabouts: For the Robert B. Moore, exit the San Diego Freeway at Fairview Road and drive west. The theater is near the Arlington Street entrance to the OCC campus. For the Plummer, exit the Orange Freeway at Chapman Avenue and drive west. The auditorium is at the corner of Chapman and Lemon St.

Wherewithal: For Saturday's show, $4.50 to $8.50 in advance, $6 to $11 at the door. For Sunday's, $10 to $15, in advance and at the door.

Where to Call: For Saturday, (714) 432-5880. For Sunday, (714) 773-3371.

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