This engaging retread of the Christmas standard first establishes Scrooge (Patrick Shearer), then cuts to backstage, where the ghosts of the three Christmases and Marley await their turns in the repetitious drama. Not only do they perform this drama once, as in Dickens; they do it every year, in every production of A Christmas Carol ever presented. They are getting bored with the work (and also with each other). But of course, being professionals, they try to keep up the level of quality.
The delight in this production was definitely in the details, in particular the amusing characterizations thrown off effortlessly by the cast, notably Shearer as Scrooge; Scot Lee Williams as Christmas Present (in Harlequin costume and makeup, as a very "in the moment" actor); Christopher Yustin as Marley (made up to look like a corpse); Desmond Dutcher as Fred, Fan, and a Businessman; and especially Melanie Adelman as Martha (a Cratchitt family member), among other characters. The antics around the Cratchitt dinner table caused hysteria, and Adelman's rubber-faced expressions were much of the cause.
While this production was on one level about putting on a play, on another level it was the same old same old. For the dual focus to work, the play had to succeed on both levels. While the English dialects were all over the map (not necessarily the English map, either), the earnestness of Marley in his remorse, and the resolve of Scrooge to remain unmoved by the misfortunes of others, created the fundamental conflict on which the story depends. And of course the Cratchitts, Fred's family, Fezziwig, et al. ratcheted up the stakes with their sometimes manic portrayals of the good life from which Scrooge has cut himself off. (Casting a hand puppet as Tiny Tim was brilliant.) Making the play a Sisyphean quest, a la Groundhog Day, made the whole effort special, an unlikely achievement with this material.
Peter Boisvert's direction was fluid, spare, and cinematic. To indicate a change in scene and time, the Christmas Ghosts merely stretched out their arms and spun about, thereby eliminating the need to schlep scenery on and off. Not once did the pacing lag, despite the numerous scenes and locations.
On the nuts-and-bolts level, this production was very simple -- a few folding tables, the aforesaid puppet, colorful and well-coordinated costumes. The lighting (Chris Daly) suffered from the Under St. Marks Syndrome. Perhaps OOBR should offer a prize for the show that solves the peculiar problems of this space. With a low ceiling and insufficient instruments, it seems impossible to light both sides of an actor's face at the same time, especially when that actor is in a scene with one or more other actors. And with an audience on two sides, the lighting needs to be even more flexible than if it were a proscenium space.
Still, this was an outstanding production, as measured on the Laugh Till You Cry index. Definitely worth a 10.
(Scenic designer, Alice M. Golden. Also featuring Leslie E. Hughes, Cat Johnson, Marc Landers, Don C. Makowski, Marsha Martinez, Ben VandenBoom.)
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Copyright 2004 John Chatterton