Presented by Anthem Theatre Company
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Steve Wargo
Musical Arrangements by Dianne Adams-McDowell
Directed by Michael Poignand
2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission.
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston) Though remembered largely as a cheerful, life-affirming tale about learning to embrace kindness, A Christmas Carol is, really, a ghost story. Ebenezer Scrooge (Kevin B. McGlynn) contemplates loneliness and the end of his life as he’s visited by spirits that embody his past, present, and future. Anthem Theatre Company gives us a stripped down Victorian play, a musical with literal Christmas carols to color a melancholy London and the workhouse realities of its Industrial Revolution.McGlynn’s Scrooge comes off as a social misfit. The ensemble, taking turns as narrator, remark on his stomping presence with the unified, whispered utterance of “Scrooge!” as he strides on stage. They surround him as ignored, destitute beggars or a critical Greek chorus, pointing out his greed and cruelty.
McGlynn’s anger, however, often seems shrill and uncontained. This is good because we see a character whose maturity has been arrested, an old man still mentally an adolescent. But it’s also disconcerting to see Scrooge’s demeanor change so quickly. Even his transformation from a Grinch to a saint seems a little fast in this play with few degrees between his chilly anger and his cheer. Once the change is made, though, McGlynn’s performance becomes warm and fun.
Stand-outs in the cast include Emily Hecht as an enthusiastic Ghost of Christmas Present. She celebrates hope and charity with the same intensity she uses to condemn Scrooge’s selfishness. Her Ghost is charming and pleased with herself but never over-the-top. The same description can be applied to David Keohane’s Fred, Scrooge’s foppish but ultimately good-hearted nephew.
Drew Doss is also a perfectly heart-breaking Bob Cratchit. His devotion to his family and the sweet Tiny Tim (Matthew William) is genuinely moving, especially in the shadow of Scrooge’s constant ridicule. In one of the potential futures revealed by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Brandon Grimes), where the Crachits are in mourning for one of their own, Doss’s grief is palpable and real.
To be honest, A Christmas Carol has not always been my favorite play. I’ve often seen it as a very saccharine story of a grouch’s unlikely metamorphosis. But I believe one of Charles Dickens’ most well-known classics is revived repeatedly because, beyond its seasonal backdrop, it’s also a love story between a man and humanity. Scrooge, before taking account of his life and accomplishments, disdains the idea of good will and refuses to believe he can do anything to relieve the pain or poverty around him.
He can, however, it’s the time of year when this is a comforting narrative, reassuring and gentle in its positivity. The fact this variation doesn’t shy away from the homeless and starving of Victorian London gives it a delicious authenticity, one worthy of productions past, present, and future.