Stoneham’s ‘Christmas Carol’ True to Dickens

09Dec09

Leigh Barrett starsChristmas Carol
More than a century and a half after its original publication, the emotional power of Charles Dickens’ holiday fable, “A Christmas Carol,” remains undiminished, and the current stage adaptation at Stoneham Theatre is a testament to the classic tale’s influence and staying power.

The current incarnation of Stoneham Theatre opened its doors on Dec. 1, 2001 with “A Christmas Carol,” and while other holiday works have graced the Stoneham stage over the last decade, the theater decided to celebrate its tenth season by returning to the story that brought new life to the historic theater.

The Stoneham production is a straightforward presentation of Dickens’ tale, adapted for the stage and directed by Diego Arciniegas. By now, most people know the story of miserly curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge (played here by Nigel Gore), who is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley (Mark Cartier). Marley warns Scrooge of the impending visits of three more apparitions: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Mark Cartier as the ghost of Marley is a highlight of the show. Mummified from head to toe and towing “the chains I forged in life,” Marley’s every step is a tortuous struggle. He speaks in a raspy voice to which an echo effect has been applied. The effect is otherworldly, but the words are sometimes hard to hear.

Scrooge at first doesn’t believe he’s seeing a ghost, chalking it up to the effects of a bad meal at the pub. “There’s more of gravy than the grave about you,” he tells the vision. But soon enough Scrooge is sufficiently spooked to admit that he’s in the presence of Marley’s ghost.

Before Scrooge has a chance to recover from Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Wakefield’s own Leigh Barrett) appears. Dressed entirely in white, the Ghost leads Scrooge through pivotal events of his life that occurred on or around Christmas. The purpose is both to get Scrooge to repent and to show the audience how he came to be so miserable. Many dramatic productions have cast a woman as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Barrett is more than up to this role. Later in the show, when she appears as other characters in ensemble, the audience is treated (all too briefly) to Barrett’s superb singing voice.

Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Gerard Slattery) shows Scrooge scenes of misery and deprivation, including the family of his clerk Bob Cratchit, who is unable to afford treatment for his crippled son Tiny Tim due to the pittance of a salary he earns working for Scrooge. When the Ghost of Christmas Present throws back at Scrooge his own callous words describing the poor and unfortunate, Scrooge is filled with self-loathing.

Scrooge finds the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come the most fearsome of the spirits. The spirit appears to Scrooge as a silent black-robed figure with a protruding hand that points. Scrooge does not like what he sees of the future and begs the ghost for a second chance, insisting, “I am not the man I was…I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

In addition to speaking their dialog, the various characters voice the words of Dickens’ omniscient narrator as well. This works fine, except when the characters talk about themselves in the third person. It can be a bit distracting for example, when Scrooge says of himself, “It was a great surprise to Scrooge…to hear a hearty laugh.”

Act I ends somewhat abruptly, in the middle of Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Present. One wonders if continuity might have been better served with a slightly longer first act.

Scenic designer Janie E. Howland and Costume Designer Toni Elliott do a convincing job of recreating the look and feel of 1840s London. The versatile set allows for seamless scene changes and the multi-talented 20-member cast proves adaptable, several taking on multiple roles.

In all, a worthwhile Christmas Carol – not without flaws, but true to Dickens’ classic story.

“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 27 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. For show times and tickets, go online at http://www.stonehamtheatre.org/ or phone 781-279-2200.

[A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Adapted and Directed by Diego Arciniegas. Traditional Music Arranged by Eric Hamel. Composer, Kevin O’Donnell. Choreographer, Ilyse Robbins. Costume Designer, Toni Elliott. Scenic Designer, Janie Howland. Lighting Designer, Franklin Meissner, Jr. Sound Designer, David Wilson. Music Director, Eric Hamel. Production Stage Manager, Josiah George. Starring Leigh Barrett, Veronica Barron, Mark Cartier, Andrew Codispoti, Nigel Gore, Eric Hamel, Michael Kreuntz, Gabriel Kuttner, Rebecca Lerman, Grant MacDermott, Jakob Michaels, Zoey Michaels, Janelle Mills, Susanne Nitter, DJ Plunkett, Marie Polizzano, Sabrina Ponte, Ann Marie Shea, Gerard Slattery, Michael Sticca and Jessica D. Turner.]

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