“Dickens by Candlelight” is an enchanting theatrical experience.

ORLANDO – In his day, Charles Dickens would act out his classic short story “A Christmas Carol” in front of family, friends and other audiences, performing all the roles himself.

Considering how many characters there are in the saga of Scrooge and the ghosts that haunt him into an emotional reawakening, a theater could easily find a cast of more than 20 actors to tell the entire story.

And it might seem an odd choice to have just one actor play every role, even if, for example, the actor happens to be someone as talented as Orlando’s veteran actor/director John DiDonna, who seems more than capable of tackling Scrooge one second, Tiny Tim the next, and making both roles seem believable and engaging.

In “Dickens by Candlelight,” DiDonna plays Scrooge and a host of other roles, although he’s not alone on the stage, since he’s aided by actresses Morgan Russel and Monica Tamborello. Their goal is to bring Scrooge’s epic holiday journey to life in a way that seems fresh, invigorating, and funny. But with just three people alternating so many different characters and locations, does it work?

Before the show starts, the actors gather around a piano and lead the audience in singing Christmas carols.

As it turns out, quite magically.

To start with, Robin Olson’s adaptation of the Dickens holiday favorite has found the ideal location for this piece: the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Lake Ivanhoe. The renovated and restored home for the Orlando Ballet and the former Orlando Opera has a huge room ideally suited for this production, which dispenses with the traditional notion of audience members seated before a stage that the actors perform on. Instead, “Dickens by Candlelight” follows the much more engaging concept of having the audience seated at 10 tables decoratively set across the room, where pots of tea and plates of fresh cookies await them. There’s a huge and beautifully lit and decorated Christmas tree in the front entrance, and bows hanging in the windows. And, not surprisingly, there are lit candles on every table, and you’ll be thrilled at the moment when the room falls into total darkness – save for those candles, which give the room an enchanting feeling.

It gets better, though. When you first walk into the main hallway of the Performing Arts Center, you discover a grand piano that the actors stand next to as they lead the audience in singing several Christmas carols, before taking them into the theater. Everyone gets shown to their table, and they have a few minutes to meet the people seated with them. They can also use this time to pour some hot tea and enjoy the cookies awaiting them. If some holiday productions are just about seeing the show, “Dickens by Candlelight” goes a few steps further in making it a shared experience among audience and actors alike, a festive holiday event where we sing together, dine together, and experience together the glory of Scrooge’s newfound spirit of giving.

The three actors stay engaged with the audience even after the show has started, moving from table to table, talking occasionally to the people seated there, even inviting a few audience members to act out a scene with them. All the while the tea keeps flowing and the cookies keep disappearing, and DiDonna, Russel and Tamborello keep you fascinated with their energetic, electric command of the show.

Perhaps my favorite moment: there are bells at the every table, and at one point in the show, the audience is asked to ring those bells, filling the room with that happy sound. Waiting a few seconds for the bells to stop ringing, DiDonna paused, then added, “Not bad.”

As Scrooge, DiDonna takes a highly familiar character – a cynical, cold-hearted miser who despises the notion of employees being given a day off with pay once a year, just to celebrate a silly old holiday – and makes him seem both all too human and familiar, and at the same time larger than life. His journey of self-discovery and then rebirth is exciting, funny and, happily for the season, life-affirming.  

"Dickens by Candlelight" is magical.

This 90-minute production, performed without intermission, moves so briskly that you might be surprised at how quickly it goes by. And at the very least, if this doesn’t send you right into the mood and spirit of the season, check your pulse on the way out the door. “Dickens by Candlelight” is a happy reminder of why we love this time of year: the joy of being together, celebrating the things that make us feel like a little family, even for just one night.

“Dickens by Candlelight” will be performed tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at 1111 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $30 for seniors and students. For tickets, call 407-409-1619.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

When it comes to massage therapy, silence is golden.

ORLANDO — Wayne Parker is quick to point out that he likes to be quiet where he works – very quiet.

That’s not intended to create a soothing or relaxing work environment for himself, but for his clients. Relaxation, in fact, is the key word at Lotus Blossom Massage.

“We definitely want to give customers something to make them feel good as far as their health goes,” said Parker, the owner of this new business in south Orlando. “There are a lot of people who realize massage therapy is medically necessary to help the body. If they do, their bodies will cleanse themselves.”

Lotus Blossom Massage opened a month ago on John Young Parkway in South Orlando.

About a month ago, Parker and his wife Marlene opened Lotus Blossom Massage in a commercial plaza at 10249 S. John Young Parkway in Orlando, very close to the Central Florida Parkway and International Drive.  Inside, they have five rooms where customers lie on a table and wait to be relaxed, and three full time massage therapists and several on call employees ready to help those customers relieve their stress.

So far, he said, for a brand new business, they’ve been getting a steady flow of customers.

“I am totally new to the business,” said Parker, who spent years working in the trucking industry. “But with the economy being what it is, I think we’re doing well. We are a new establishment, and we are trying to be separate from the others.”

Lotus Blossom has one room, for example, where a pot steams rocks until they’re plenty warm.

These rocks are used for a relaxing hot stone massage.

“This is a room where we do the hot stone massage,” Parker said. “The stones are heated up to a certain temperature, and then they’re placed on parts of the body to relieve muscle tensions. This technique has been around for many years. It’s set at a certain temperature where it relaxes the muscles. It’s a good, relaxing feeling that people enjoy.”

Across the hall is the “couples” room – two separate tables where couples can come in and get massage therapy at the same time.

“We give the customer good services,” Parker said. “I think that’s the key to this business.”

And the reason why he urges visitors and staff alike to be relatively quiet as they walk down the halls? Customers inside these rooms don’t want to be disturbed by loud talking in the hall.

“We have a good, clean, quiet atmosphere here,” Parker said. “If you were to have a real noisy atmosphere, then you can’t relax, and it’s important for people who come in to do just that – relax.

There are a lot of health benefits to getting a massage, Parker said. It can relieve stress in the body, which in turn can help release toxins as well.

“You have to be able to treat the problems people have,” said Lin, who has been working as a massage therapist for the past five years and now treats customers at Lotus Blossom.

“If people come in with a problem in their neck, you have to know what muscle to treat so they can leave here relaxed,” she added.

Massage therapy requires a lot more skill than people realize, Lin said.

Lin has been working as a massage therapist for five years.

“We know a bit about the pressure points of the body, and we do different techniques,” she said.

“All the therapists here are licensed with the state and county,” Parker added.  “We’re very professional here.”

That’s particularly true, he said, since this industry is often misunderstood.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand the massage business,” Parker said.  “They’re not aware of the benefits of a massage. I think a lot of people think it’s frivolous, but it’s not. It keeps the body healthy.”

And that request to be quiet in the hallways really is important, Lin said. Lin noted that she used to work as a hair stylist, which was a very different environment, one where the women who came to her office always wanted to talk while getting their hair done. But at a massage office, silence is more of the rule.

“At a hair salon, most of the clients are women,” she said. “With massage therapy, it’s more male clients, and they like to be quiet. Some customers like to talk, but mostly they like to relax.”

To learn more about Lotus Blossom Massage, call 407-674-7986, email info@lotusblossommassage.com, or log on to www.lotusblossommassage.com.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

Freelining with Mike Freeman: A night of overflowing horror

 Onto each day, it seems, a little sunshine must fall.
At least that was my hope this morning, when the heavy rains came down so consistently and, it seemed, endlessly, that I started to feel like it was a plot to sour my mood on what could otherwise have been a perfectly fine, relaxing Saturday.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem whatsoever with the rain. It hasn’t rained in months, and the poor plants in front of my home not only had to combat the sub-freezing overnight temperatures this week, but the lack of rain for months. For their health and well being alone, I welcomed the downpours.
But for those who think rain can mysteriously set you into a funk, can wash away your happiness and plunge you into a dour mood, on this day they were right.  I desperately wanted some bright sunshine to make me feel more cheerful, rather than sitting by the window watching the rain come down.


But the truth is, the funk had set in much earlier.

At 2 a.m., to be precise.

I’m not a late night person, and I tend to crash early on Friday nights — yes, I know, I know, another sad reminder of the fuddy duddys of getting older, yeah yeah yeah — but usually by Friday evening I’m so worn out from work that a night on the town is about the last thing on my mind. Such was the case last night. I turned in hopelessly early and had no trouble fading into dreamland.

I woke around 2 a.m., and have no idea why. Nothing in particular brought me out of my sleep, like a loud noise or a cat seeking attention, or even a particularly unpleasant dream. No, I just sort of opened my eyes, and the pitch darkness of the night seemed to beckon to me: Geez, haven’t you slept long enough? I was on the verge of being ready for the new day. Too early!!

So I got up, went into the bathroom, quickly did what nature called on me to do, and then flushed the toilet, hoping the sound wouldn’t wake up the others in the house at such a late hour.

Little did I know ….

There’s nothing more depressing at 2 a.m. than watching a backed up toilet fill to the top of the bowl with disgustingly dirty water … and then keep rising. You find yourself standing there in front of that bowl, pleading with it to stop, to resist the urge to go any further, to please have a little consideration at such an inconvenient hour — like the toilet is poised to look up at you and say, Hey, sorry, nothing I can do about it. Isn’t it strange the way a toilet that’s backing up sometimes stops just as it reaches the tipping point? And then, of course, there are nights like this one.

Over the side it went, all that dirty water, flooding my bathroom floor. There isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do at moments like this, except stand there and feel depressed and defeated. My first urge was to turn and walk away, with the justification that it was, after all, the middle of the night, and who fights overflowing toilets at 2 a.m.? Even insomniacs have to figure they’ve got better things to do.

But I didn’t walk away. With three other people living in my house, I wasn’t about to let any of them wander into the bathroom first thing in the morning and discover, to their horror, what lies awaiting them. So out into the kitchen I went, then back into the bathroom I waded, armed majestically with paper towels and disinfectant spray. I also spent copious amonts of time applying that plunger to the toilet, wondering as I did if someone had died while using it, fallen in, and gotten stuck in one of the pipes. It sort of felt that way for a while.

How can one toilet be so much trouble?

After you’ve spent a half hour dealing with something like this, let me tell you, getting back into bed doesn’t exactly lead instantly to sleep. I sat there in bed, listening to the perfect sleeping conditions — total silence everywhere — but knowing sleep was now a distant memory.
 I suppose it was just one of those nights, when everything seems to go a little haywire. I can deal with that, I suppose, if the other six nights during the week are relatively groovin’.  But I did wish I could have woken up to a bright sunny day, beckoning me outside my house to happiness and bliss.  The rain made it seem depressing, like everyone was ganging up on me just because I went to bed early. I know that’s not quite what was going on here, but when you’re feeling down, I guess you grasp for creative excuses.

It’s sunny now. The rain is gone. I’ve strolled around my front garden and my plants look happier today, so they’ve made me happy as well. Now if I can only overcome the enormous anxiety I have about stepping into my bathroom for the first time since 2:30 a.m. My poor neighbor has got to be wondering by now why I keep ringing his doorbell, asking if I could run to the john one more time ….

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

When Restrooms Go Wild -- a possible reality show?

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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