Wisdom Bridge Theatre

Tom, a man who has been blind for eight years, tells Edna, the volunteer reader with whom he’s fallen in love, that he no longer knows how things look by the way they feel: to him a toy car feels just like a toy bus. Worse, he says, “My own face has slipped away.” At that she begins to tell him how he looks–in a way that leaves no doubt how she feels–and in effect gives him back his face.

This scene is pure theater magic, a good example of how the holiday comedy Triple Exposure–a Wisdom Bridge world premiere–works despite being slick, cute, and predictable, despite its familiar formulas and massive indebtedness to Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Marty, Gift of the Magi, Prelude to a Kiss, and of course Butterflies Are Free. Surprisingly the author, Jim Geoghan, also wrote the acerbic, almost jaundiced comedy Only Kidding, another Wisdom Bridge triumph staged by Terry McCabe. But Triple Exposure is definitely a Christmas show: like the season, it confers on its improbable New York lovers more happiness than they deserve, and even a miracle or two.

Former cabbie Thomas Hanratty was blinded when he drunkenly jump-started his best friend’s jalopy and a car battery exploded in his face. Since then Lou D’Marco, his guilt-ridden pal, has doggedly served as Tom’s link to the sighted world.

But a link is not enough. Sadder but no wiser, Tom has become isolated in his home of 30 years, an increasingly unkempt apartment in crime-ridden Hell’s Kitchen.

Two days before Christmas Lou tells Tom he’s moving to Vermont to pursue an affair, leaving Tom in the hands of Edna Miles, a novice volunteer reader from the Lighthouse for the Blind.

For Tom, stubbornly independent and proud to a fault, this amounts to abandonment; for Edna, a plain and plucky spinster whose idealism Tom tests to the limit, it’s a challenge no training could prepare her for. After some initial (and hilarious) awkwardness, including a cane-swinging donnybrook, the similarities of these misfits–some contrived–overcome their fears: after all, both are outsiders, lonely people who’ve suffered at the hands of abusive fathers and have almost given up on life and love.

Of course the Christmas miracle is love. Miracle enough at any time of year, here it’s a literal nine-day wonder (the action ends, symbolically, on New Year’s Eve). In that short span Edna, a whirlwind of domesticity, scours the dirt-caked floor, adds curtains, flowers, and more lights (as if darkness bothered Tom), and crams empty cupboards and the refrigerator with nutritious food. Santa could do no more.

As if that weren’t enough Geoghan brings back Lou, whose return sets up the play’s final–wonderful–surprise, a moment of truth that hinges on a lie. For that alone Triple Exposure is worth seeing. But Geoghan adds one more potent touch: Tom sets up his old camera to take a picture (one he’ll never see) of himself and Edna. It’s the final indication of how his past will feed his future.

Each character gets a well-crafted confession, and like the script the staging is a treasure. McCabe is unafraid of the play’s (often earned) sentimentality and never condescends to the characters or to the real-life sacrifices Tom’s blindness dictates. Above all he drives home the play’s homage to A Christmas Carol: Tom’s transformation from fearful crabbiness to newfound humanity is amazingly like Scrooge’s; Edna’s devotion fully matches the truths the spirits force on Ebenezer.

In his most moving role to date, Chicago stalwart Gary Houston superbly captures Tom’s resistance to change (even happiness) and his anger at everything but the bad luck that made him blind. Houston also gives us specifics: Tom’s gratingly gruff voice, his fear of sudden noises, his trick of carefully folding his money in different ways to distinguish different denominations. As you watch him, the inevitability of everything Houston does seems in itself a miracle.

Maureen Gallagher gives the flinty but hopeful Edna a resilience too real to be ridiculed–even when Geoghan has her pretend to be carrying a gun and to threaten Tom with it, a sad and stupid joke. But fortunately Gallagher plays the reality behind the gags; her Edna accumulates dignity despite the wisecracking dialogue. Gary Brichetto, in a typically sturdy, salt-of-the-earth performance, makes the horny Lou as recognizable as any friend or relative we regret and love in equal parts.

Because much of the play is so satisfying it’s tempting to pretend that everything in Triple Exposure rings true–but Geoghan and McCabe sometimes resort to tricks. Tom’s initial attempt to get rid of Edna is patently phony: trying to grab her, he never heads for her voice, as any blind person would. Tom’s occasional inattentiveness, employed by the playwright whenever it suits his purposes, is also suspect.

Finally, it’s hard to believe Tom when he says blind people can’t detect beauty when they touch someone’s face or body (“I can’t paint pictures with my fingers”). In fact any blind person can–but, crucially, it doesn’t really matter to Tom. The fact that he and Edna both need to believe that Edna is beautiful is easily the least important thing about these remarkable accidental lovers. Fortunately they grow beyond illusions, even the author’s.


Goodman Theatre

As Scrooges go, however, Tom Hanratty is just a spin-off–accept no substitutes! And Ebenezer is currently undergoing his annual spirit therapy in Goodman Theatre’s 15th offering of the Dickens classic. Tom Mula is contagiously enjoying his second year in the role, playing the skinflint with an equal delight in his misanthropy and his redemption. If Mula has added a lot of comic business, the gags do come straight from the character. (No one else can scare off a caroler quite so efficiently.) A kind of Ghost of Scrooges Past, William J. Norris has returned to the pageant to play a screeching Ghost of Marley right out of Stephen King, among other deft cameos.

Steve Scott’s richly wrought staging is trebly blessed: by the cast; by Tom Creamer’s adaptation, which rightly emphasizes the tale’s hard times (then and now) as well as Dickens’s potent message of human interdependence and responsibility; and by Larry Schanker’s score, which fairly bubbles over with carols, traditional and otherwise.

Scott has assembled supporting actors who are absolute pillars–Rick Snyder, doggedly decent as Cratchit; Carole Gutierrez as his considerable helpmate; Joan Elizabeth, strong in her silences as Scrooge’s young Belle. Especially fine is Mark D. Espinoza as the Young Scrooge: he already seems haunted by his future. This year’s Tiny Tim, Emeal Myles III, is especially diminutive, but as always the little boy’s “God bless us, everyone!” rings out loud as revelation.