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A Christmas Carol
Ebenezer Scrooge said that? He is better known for muttering, "Bah, humbug" than words like "happy" and "merry." Yet his renewed spirit at the end of theater adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Patrick Barlow is really the heart of one of Charles Dickens' most beloved works. Scrooge is that miserly misanthrope who hates Christmas until former accounting partner Marley returns in a ghostly nightmare to teach the penny-pincher a valuable lesson. This changes Scrooge's life, and the lives of those around him.
Barlow (Tony-winning writer of The 39 Steps ) adapted the 1843 book into a play for five actors, plaa=yed at the Theater at St. Clement's by Peter Bradbury, Mark Light-Orr, Jessie Shelton, Franca Vercelloni, and Mark Price. This energetic rendition is directed with a sure, smooth hand by Joe Calarco.
Tall and lanky, Peter Bradbury plays Scrooge with a vigorous charisma, bringing jolts of humor to the old curmudgeon and shooting sly asides to the audience. He rules the stage for 90 minutes, with four actor/singer/musicians in various supporting roles with stylized individuality, impressive with spot-on Cockney, Irish or upper-class British accents. And, yes, there is Bob Crachit's crippled but plucky son, Tiny Tim, who is so tiny he is not played by a human at all but by a puppet. The audience loves him.
Scrooge's meanness is quickly established at the top of the play. It is Christmas Eve in the frigid shop but Scrooge will not spare another coal for the stove. His security lies in knowing his trunkful of coins is securely locked and his Christmas amusement comes from loansharking, turning down charity requests and scoffing off invitations to Christmas dinners. I probably don't have to tell you the rest: a frightening visitation while asleep from his dead partner Jacob Marley who sends visions of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come to convince Scrooge to empathize with the less fortunate. . .with Scrooge awakening to an understanding the preciousness of life.
With just a few props on a rotating stage, Brian Prather's setting stirs the imagination. A decorative high iron gate with street lamps and a curved iron staircase is easily pushed into various angles by the actors, to indicate Scrooge's office, his bedroom and glimpses into festive homes and families. Chris Lee's lighting and sound design by Victoria Delorio emphasize the terror of the ghosts (inappropriate for very young children) and spotlight London's holiday atmosphere with actors dressed by Anne Kennedy in black Victorian hats, scarves and coats.
A Christmas Carol focuses on the political and social side of Victorian England, illuminating the joys and holiday traditions more than the religious view. As Scrooge claims at the end, "For we are all of us upon this earth a great family all together, Sir! Are we not dear Bob!," this is a entrancing and enlightened way to get into spirit of the season.