Montreal Gazette’s Bill Brownstein previews A Christmas Carol – December 10, 2015: “No one will come to the show and think these are not professional actors”
Read on Montreal Gazette’s website: Georges Laraque on motley team for Geordie Productions’ A Christmas Carol
Bill Brownstein – December 10, 2015
This is a first for Geordie Productions assistant director Jessica Abdallah: she has to stand on a chair and stretch to adjust the elaborate and massive costume of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Charles Dickens would never have imagined that a famous hockey player such as former Habs enforcer Georges Laraque — all 6-foot-4 of him — would one day play the Ghost of Christmas Present in a stage adaptation of Chuck’s time-honoured A Christmas Carol.
Dickens likely would have been just as taken aback that three Superior Court judges, a gaggle of lawyers and entrepreneurs and a teacher/broadcaster would also be cast in his Christmas classic.
The event is the annual Geordie Productions fundraiser, in which A Christmas Carol will be staged Friday, Dec. 11 and Saturday, Dec. 12 at Concordia’s D.B. Clarke Theatre.
Laraque, despite being encumbered by an outfit far heavier than the one he sported during his hockey days, is in a particularly jovial mood during a dress rehearsal at Geordie headquarters on Berri St. He pledges that there should be no need for him to take off the proverbial gloves to deal with any of his fellow thesps flubbing a line.
“No,” he says with a broad smile. “Everyone knows their lines now. They’re all so impressive. Besides, I can’t really get mad at them, since I’m the one who has missed a few rehearsals.”
Nor does Laraque’s Ghost of Christmas Present have to resort to any arm-twisting or body-bending when it comes to dealing with Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan. “I try to take a gentle approach in getting him to be a more giving and caring person,” Laraque says, before joking: “I’m just trying to enforce a little goodness.”
This is not Laraque’s first acting job. He appeared in the hockey flick (surprise) Goon, and will return in its coming sequel. And he recently did a turn in Toronto in a staged reading of The Princess Bride, wherein he reprised the role of Fezzik, performed in the 1987 film by the late wrestler André the Giant.
“Showbiz is more fun (than hockey) because there are no hits to the head, or the body either,” quips Laraque, 39, who also co-hosts the weekday afternoon sports-radio show Laraque et Gonzalez on 91.9 FM.
“I love acting. It’s a good career move for me, because I’m not shy. I had seen a Geordie performance of A Christmas Carol two years ago and I fell in love with it. I said at the time I would love to do it if they had room for me, so here I am.”
“No one will come to the show and think these are not professional actors,” says Tracey McKee, far left. Her cast mates in A Christmas Carol include Robert Gervais, second from left, Brian Riordan, Georges Laraque and Philip Johnston.
Director Dean Patrick Fleming, the man who cast Laraque, is set to begin a pivotal scene between the Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge. So here come da judge (Riordan) and here come Laraque.
The two exchange lines in most animated fashion. Riordan’s Scrooge becomes somewhat unravelled. And Laraque’s Ghost replies gently, before uttering: “Oh, s–t. I f—ed up.”
Wait a sec. That’s not in the original Dickens. The assembled cast and crew all crack up. But Laraque need not fear Fleming or Riordan administering a head blow.
“I guess I’ll just have to put him in the box for two minutes,” Fleming muses.
The scene is repeated, without miscue. Laraque is beaming: “No worries about a misconduct penalty now.”
Taking in the action with considerable amusement is Philip Johnston, a financial consultant by day and, of late, Charles Dickens the narrator by night. He recalls taking part in amateur fundraisers for the Centaur in the early ’90s, before Geordie became the beneficiary for these annual shows 14 years ago.
“The first one that was done for the Centaur, 12 Angry Jurors, was performed in 1991 by an all-lawyer cast,” explains the erudite Johnston. “It went fine, but my pal Peter Blaikie called to tell me that there were not enough lawyers who could act — although they thought that they could act. He said they had to spread their wings, and that I would be on for next year.”
One lawyer who could and still can act is Riordan, who kills as old Ebenezer. He has performed in all but a couple of the Centaur and Geordie fundraisers. He has also taken on those who are far bigger than Laraque. In his day job as Quebec Superior Court judge last June, Riordan ordered three tobacco companies to pay $15.6 billion to smokers, in what is reputed to be the largest class-action lawsuit undertaken in Canada.
“Before I became a judge, when I was a lawyer, people used to say that I was an actor of sorts,” Riordan notes. “I would say that acting is much harder than pleading a case. As an actor, you have to get the words close enough to being right, so that the next person speaking has to get their cue.”
Geordie Productions primarily creates theatre for younger audiences. The annual fundraisers, while kid-friendly, are more aimed at grown-ups with far deeper pockets.
Despite the levity at rehearsal, A Christmas Carol is an intricate production featuring a whopping 43 players, plus impressive set design, lighting, sound and costumes. Fleming particularly enjoys working with the amateur actors. “Then again, you’ve got people like Philip, Brian, Tracey (McKee) and Robert (Gervais) who’ve been doing this so long that they are like professional actors,” Fleming says.
Although he has been cast as Scrooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley, Gervais, a tech consultant and president of the Geordie board, could sooner pass for a Montreal cop, what with his costume’s camo pants — not to mention his camo shirt and camo hat.
McKee, the aforementioned teacher/broadcaster, plays a cleaning woman and a member of the choir. “It’s a very small role,” she says. “But as the old adage goes, there are no small roles — just small actors. But the thrill is working with all these people.
“What’s incredible is that they lead very busy lives already. Yet no one will come to the show and think these are not professional actors. They take it very seriously, giving up a lot of time in rehearsals. Many are interesting lawyers — which isn’t an oxymoron in their case.”
“It’s really something for Geordie to get prominent lawyers and entrepreneurs to give up about 200 hours of their time for rehearsals and the shows,” Johnston adds. “We’re talking 200 billable hours, too.
“We bring our friends and families to these shows, who are fully expecting that we will make fools of ourselves onstage. Then these people come away amazed at how professional the production is. And it’s a real boost for us. Really, what all this is for us is a kind of acting fantasy camp for amateurs.”
AT A GLANCE
A Christmas Carol, a fundraising event for Geordie Productions, takes place Friday, Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 12 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the D.B. Clarke Theatre in Concordia’s Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Each performance is followed by a reception and silent auction. Tickets cost $100; $25 for children. Family packages are available. For reservations, call 514-845-9810 or visit geordie.ca.