Working out the Humbugs: A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Photo credit: Mark Turek

Presented by Trinity Repertory Company
By Adrian Hall and Richard Cumming
Adapted from the story by Charles Dickens
Directed by Tyler Dobrowsky
Musical Direction by Darren Server
Choreography by Shura Baryshnikov

November 9 – December 28,
201 Washington St.
Providence, RI
Trinity Repertory Company on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Providence) I know what you’re going to say: “what can anyone possibly have to say about Dickens’ classic Christmas tale that I haven’t heard five billion times before?”  Trinity Rep sees your concern and raises you veritable Holiday Magic onstage before your very eyes.  If you’re feeling a case of the humbugs, a trip to Providence is well worth your while to get into the spirit (and spirits) of the season.

Let’s start here: Dickens’ novel is a delight.  If you’ve not read it, you’re doing yourself a gross disservice.  Alright, sure, you’ve seen everyone including The Muppets adapt it so you know the story better than the back of your own hand; but indulge me for a minute.  Just read the first two paragraphs of the text.  I’ll even put it right here for you:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Dickens’ sense of humor, his word play, his sheer revelry in the English language is genius.  Now take the novel and, re-applying Dickens’ greatest qualities via an adaptor who also exhibits them, imagine the story translated onto the stage.  Dickens’ wit shines through this adaptation in a way that I’ve rarely seen.  Often page-to-stage can be a tedious process and, since it’s touched by so many hands along the way, the original author’s salient qualities can get lost in the shuffle.  Trinity’s A Christmas Carol, however, is a shining example of bringing the author to life (literally in this case since Dickens himself makes an appearance as a framing device to the story).

What’s not to love?  The actors were talented, the script was extremely literary, the use of stage technologies was top-notch, and the music will do that heart-warming thing where, upon hearing it, your heart grows three sizes and you suddenly understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Part of what makes a good A Christmas Carol is that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; certainly there’s joy but there’s also fear.  Trinity brought the play’s supernatural aspects to life in a way that was both delighting and terrifying.  Using projected images, magicians’ apparatuses, and a conveniently placed center-stage trap door, the ghosts were able to really haunt the theatre in a way that made them believable as supernatural entities.  Too often, our big-budget Hollywood-thriller-programmed minds can see live performance supernatural as passé or mundane.  I don’t think there’s any risk of that at Trinity.  The ghosts were larger than life; alternatively benevolent and eerie.  Marley’s appearance is sudden and shocking, Christmas Past literally sparkles due to clever costume design, Christmas Present’s melancholy fleetingness is ever-present after his spectacular entrance, and Christmas Future’s silent insistence packs power despite his alarmingly small physique.

Fred Sullivan Jr.’s Scrooge is alternatingly enchanting and tragic.  This is a man who knows how to work his audience and bring humanity to even a notoriously problematic character.  The ensembles’ voices are angelic; the show’s music is well worth your Southern migration.  Perhaps most impressive is the transformative nature of this show; the cast seamlessly portrays persons and events geographically, temporally, and psychologically distant from each other with each cast member playing a multitude of roles throughout the night.  Never is the audience left unclear about who or what is being presented despite the whirlwind pace of the story.

Because director Tyler Dobrowsky knows his stuff, the production follows several cardinal rules of good stage comedy: men in dresses prancing around like giddy girls are funny; take the biggest prop and smallest actor you can find, put them together, and you can’t lose; find the most ridiculous wig you can get your hands on and figure out a way to put it onstage (preferably with an actor who knows how to work its quirks).

 We can’t ignore the production’s perfect pacing.  This show really does well because it glosses over the parts of a well-trodden story that its audience knows too well.  Fezziwig’s ball?  Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt.  No longer impressive.  Show me ghosts and graveyards and live snow onstage (really hard to do, by the way, but Trinity manages it several times in this production).  Bring me death and humanity.  Show me heartwarming London street urchins and orphans like they’re going out of style.  This production delivered on the portions that you just can’t get anywhere else which meant that, even though I knew this story, it was like seeing it for the first time.  And that, my friends, is how Christmas comes to life.

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