Marley was dead to begin with, but holiday spirits were alive and high at TheatreSquared on Friday night thanks to the debut of a reimagined “A Christmas Carol.”
We all know the story of old Ebenezer Scrooge as he goes through a mystical night of self-redemption alongside three ghosts who reveal his past and present lives, as well as what is to come (or so we think). Charles Dickens’ story is a common tale during the Christmas season (though with each new imagining, I can’t help but compare it to quite possibly the best film retelling). I was curious about TheatreSquared’s new adaptation by T2 dynamic duo Amy Herzberg and Bob Ford. I had seen their 2013 adaptation directed by Morgan Hicks, which starred a couple of the same players (Bryce Kemph played Fezziwig in 2013; this year he is a splendid Ghost of Christmas Present).
The play begins in a library on Christmas Eve, 1843. The librarian is closing up shop when she sees a young boy in the reading room, waiting to be picked up by his father, but possibly abandoned. He has nowhere to go, so to pass the time, she decides to read to him. But it isn’t any storybook. A brand new, signed copy of “A Christmas Carol” has arrived at the library, and through the wonders of theatre, the boy and librarian are transported into the pages of the book (and so are we). I wasn’t sure how I would like this storytelling choice throughout the play because I was worried it would be a distraction (especially because the accents started off a tad wonky), but as the story went on, I realized this was an excellent choice. So often, Bob Cratchit or another character acts as the story’s narrator or conscience. In this retelling, the fourth wall isn’t necessarily being broken because we’re watching the young boy experience literature and the imagination that comes alive when indulging in it.
Enter Scrooge, played by James Taylor Odom. A local thespian and touring artist, he is always a pleasure to watch, and it was great watching him create magic on stage again. Being the talented actor he is, Odom captured the spirit of Scrooge–playing such a known and timeless character could be a challenge with as many adaptations as there have been, but he did it with ease. The same goes for the rest of the cast–with 12 actors playing main names and countless ensemble characters, they kept the energy festive and alive. One actor we should all keep our eye on: local middle schooler Beck Crabb. This young fellow played the boy in the library, and he also became the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. Having a child portray this spirit–wow. What a thoughtful way to bring another message into a play about redeeming ourselves and changing the future for the better. Kudos to the creative team for this decision.
The production crew also did a fantastic job of making the set as adaptable as the show itself. Although we know and see we are all in a library, the bookshelves act as doors into Scrooge’s mansion. There are secret openings and details that enhance the storytelling experience (i.e. a door knocker transforming into Jacob Marley’s face, Scrooge’s daytime shoes placed as bookends, candles strategically placed for the visiting ghosts). The lighting and sound cues were timed nicely–they weren’t anything too fancy.
The overall storytelling and design leaves much to the imagination, as smaller props weren’t used. Like the librarian encourages the boy, the audience must use their imagination and engross themselves in the story. With the new space TheatreSquared has and the magic this ensemble created, I don’t think audience members should have a problem with that. No humbugs to be had here.
“A Christmas Carol” will be on the main theater stage through Dec. 27. Get tickets and more information at the TheatreSquared website.