Trinity Rep’s “A Christmas Carol” is a family-friendly version of the Dickens classic that young folks, and the young of heart, will love, especially if they share a considerable tolerance for broad humor. As adapted decades ago by Adrian Hall and Richard Cumming, this production presents the familiar story in five “staves”, a curious use of the term, which normally means verses of a poem. In fact, the tale does seem at first to be just that, rather like an operatic recitative, but this musical device is, fortunately, discarded early into the play. It starts out with an unusual (but not particularly effective) flashback as told to a group of Victorian urchins by “The Reader”, as enacted by Tom Gleadow. As anyone who hasn’t been holed up in a cave for the past couple of centuries knows by now, it portrays the miserly Scrooge as he spends a Christmas Eve visited, as in the title above, by three ghosts. (Full disclosure here: this reviewer used the same line when reviewing another local production of the classic yuletide tale a few years ago, but then what can one say new about this chestnut?)
In the current revival under the direction of Tyler Dobrowsky, any trace of subtlety is lost in the transition to this ninety minute work. Truth to tell, subtlety is lacking even in the original Dickens, but his gift with storytelling made up for this with a considerable dollop of whimsy and feeling. The same cannot be said for this production, though the cast works hard at punching home this atypically funny approach. The Set Design by Eugene Lee, fairly monochromatic, is authentically Dickensian in spirit, and allows for some truly ingenious entrances and exits. The Lighting Design by John Ambrosone, Sound Design by Peter Sasha Hurowitz, and Costume Design by Alison Walker Carrier, all contribute consistency to this television sitcom effort.
This year the cast includes Timothy Crowe revisiting his role as Ebenezer Scrooge, the aforementioned Mr. Gleadow as Mr. Fezziwig, Stephen Thorne as Marley, Mauro Hantman as Bob Cratchit, Mia Ellis as the Ghost of Christmas Past, three actors (Elliott Peters, Daniel Duque-Estrada and Joe Wilson, Jr.) as various stages (or staves?) of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Leicester Landon as the Ghost of Christmas Future, and the alternate (“Green”) cast of young thespians, all of them believable, with standout performances by Lily Clurman as Martha and Phineas Peters as Tiny Tim. All seemed to be having a swell time.
So did the audience, for that matter. If you’re tired of the same old treacle-filled versions you’ve seen in the recent and/or distant past, this laugh-filled production is just what Santa ordered. For those more traditional folks like this reviewer, an annual reading of the original masterpiece (for example, in a worn old forty-five-cent paperback copy) will fill the bill.