Review of A Christmas Carol
Even though Charles Dickens is read in every middle school and high school across the country, often accompanied by groans from students (A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations) because of the length of his descriptions, in A Christmas Carol he created a compact but powerful message that has resonated all over the world ever since. The movie adaptations are too numerous to count, and it seems a new one comes out every few years. I especially enjoyed Cecily Tyson’s turn as Scroogina, a Black woman banker whose heartlessness gets turned around on Christmas Eve.
Roberta Weiner’s Prana production is no exception. With a cast of 50 plus children and teens, in lush velvet dresses and scrappy trousers and vests, they gave a charming rendition of the timeless tale. The story is told by three narrators (Aster Kris, Kaitlyn Hoffey and Isabella DiPippo) whose British accents are spot on. Kaitlyn Hoffey was especially clear and easy to understand, and her smile was infectious. Karter O’Keefe, as Scrooge’s nephew, also projected very well and radiated good cheer. Scrooge, as admirably played by Caroline Mulik, gave no question as to his stinginess, and bellowed appropriately, but also showed a believable change of heart as the three spirits showed him the error of his ways. Bob Cratchit (Tim Condor) and his warm but protective wife (May Shade) projected the resilience and cheer possible even amid the poverty to which they were subjected. The three charitable gentlemen, played by Scarlett Hemming, Winslow Friend and Vera Finn, provided a nice bookend with their scenes of dismay at Scrooge’s rude rejection in the beginning of the story and their amazement when Scrooge generously gave in the end. Their coats, cut short in front and long in back, were gems.
Nicholas DiPippo was convincingly threatening as Marley’s ghost, come back to warn Scrooge that he was destined to fly through eternity laden with heavy chains if he didn’t realize that humanity, not wealth, was his business. He also sang a great solo in Act 2. When two girls, Rosie Foley and Viv McCarter, come to Scrooge as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Scrooge remembers himself as a lonely, forgotten boy. (Patrick Finn.) But his sister (Kelsey O’Keefe) comes to tell him their father has relented and he can come home for Christmas after all.
When Scrooge appears as a young man, (Nolan Doherty) the dance scene was outstanding. Partygoers whirled around in a well-rehearsed dance that was a clear forerunner of the Virginia reel, complete with fiddles. Mr. Fezziwig was played as young Scrooge’s hearty, kindly employer by Olivia Slater. Belle, as played by Kendall Hanlon, and the young Scrooge, made a very handsome couple. But alas, Belle senses that Scrooge’s love of her has been replaced by his love of money, and she bravely lets him go.
Clair Nielsen and Gabi Boucher appear as flower sellers as the Ghost of Christmas Present, with an appealing touch of My Fair Lady in their costumes and props. A part of the original story often skipped over in TV and movie versions is well placed here as the children Ignorance and Want appear, to show Scrooge what his real enemies are. Clair and Gabi astonish Scrooge by showing him the happiness of the Cratchit family, despite the paltry wages Scrooge pays Bob. Tiny Tim, played appealingly by Makayla Kemmerer, sparks a bit of empathy in Scrooge’s cold heart. The spirits loudly remind him of his earlier flippant comment about how those who are destitute should simply go the the prisons and workhouses. When Scrooge asks is the boy will live, the spirits resoundingly remind him of how he said that those who must die should do it and get rid of the surplus population.
At the party at Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s house, Scrooge realizes that the young people of his family have chosen him to be the jest of the evening, as they guess who the creature who growls and lives in London turns out to be him. But he also notices how his nephew Fred will not criticize him, for Karter O’Keefe, speaking well, points out that the one who suffers most from Scrooge’s hard heartedness is himself. Another interesting addition was that after the intermission, the narrators helpfully asked questions to straighten out some of the more confusing flashbacks.
After the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, (Andy Heller) Scrooge is wondering who the dead man they are talking about with so little compassion could be. Mr. Bumbleberry, Mr. Winkle and Mrs. Perrybingle (Brie Horton, Morgan Fetrow and Violet Guenon) and others gossip amusingly about who would even go to the funeral, unless it came with a free meal. John and Caroline, characters often left out of movie versions, (Evey Skocyper and Caroline Dean) are consumed with fear about the debts they owe Ebenezer. But once Scrooge see his own name on the tombstone, he realizes how his stinginess has ruined his life.
With joy Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning and finds he can prevent the dreadful future he has just seen. He liberally spreads his generosity to his maid, all the Cratchits and his debtors John and Caroline. Caroline Dean, now greatly relieved, speaks eloquently about the change in Scrooge. All the actors speak with a very convincing British accent, even some of them distinctly Cockney. Throughout the play, the cast has sung lustily “Deck the Halls,” “Here We Come A Wassailing,” “The Holly and The Ivy,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” and “Good King Wenceslas,” without any live accompaniment, and after the curtain call the narrators ask everyone in the audience to join in on one more rousing version of “Deck The Halls.” What a wonderful wish the cast cheers at the end – “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All!”