Sunday, December 8, 2013

ASF: "A Christmas Carol"

Tradition continues at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival with this year's re-mounting of Artistic Director Geoffrey Sherman's adaptation of A Christmas Carol, complete with its author Charles Dickens as narrator, occasional character, and magician to conduct the two hour proceedings.

The action is fast-paced, and while sometimes sacrificing some of the novel's plot details and thematic nuances in favor of magic tricks and diverting novelty songs, Mr. Sherman's version remains true to Dickens' demonstration of Ebeneezer Scrooge's [Rodney Clark] magical reclamation from miserly grump to a man who will "honor Christmas with all my heart".

To be fair, Wynn Harmon handles the sleight-of-hand magic tricks expertly, and is an engaging narrator as Dickens who seamlessly transforms into other characters and back again as if by magic. -- And the "song of the cat", a clever comic duet by Alice Sherman and Lea McKenna-Garcia, is enriched by their fine voices.

In this classic tale, a familiar staple of the Christmas Season ever since Dickens penned it in 1843 and the source of countless stage and film versions, the story of Scrooge's visitations by assorted ghosts who help turn the recalcitrant penny-pincher into a generous benefactor is bound to warm the hearts of even the most reluctant of us.

Many in the acting ensemble [including some local children] are reprising the roles they played in last year's inaugural production: Mr. Harmon conducts the play with a masterly hand...Brik Berkes returns as the ghost of Scrooge's seven-years-dead business partner Jacob Marley who sets the action in motion; he seems to relish the other-worldliness of the role with a fervor that initiates Scrooge's journey... Billy Sharpe and Greta Lambert once again give the utmost credibility to the downtrodden Cratchits whose devotion to one another and their brood of children -- Tiny Tim [Liam South on opening night was nigh on to perfect in the role, and whose "God bless us, every one" garnered appropriate sighs and cheers] among them -- is so gentle and honest that it transcends sentimentality... James Bowen's depiction of the Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly sort who relishes his ability to change people's demeanor by sprinkling magic dust on them, but who can also address the unpleasant realities of poverty and ignorance that infected Victorian London as much as they do now in America... Ms. Sherman again is secure in singing as she is in depicting Belle, Young Scrooge's [Joshua Marx] love-interest (a newly extended scene of their breakup helps in our appreciation of the older Scrooge's loss)... and Paul Hebron and Dianna Van Fossen double as the generous and life-loving Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, and later as Old Joe and Mrs. Dilber who greedily bargain over Scrooge's property... Seth Rettberg's ever optimistic Fred, Scrooge's nephew, is affable and good-humored... and the South brothers [Liam, Duncan, and Crispin] have been sharpening their collective talents with confidence and professionalism in multiple children's roles. ASF newcomer Rivka Borek inhabits the Ghost of Christmas Past with authority.

Mr. Clark's Scrooge has developed over time into a complex character whose reclamation is revealed in subtle degrees that suggest the difficulty of change, the devastating loss forever of his fiancee, and a desire to make things right with the world he has often rejected, when faced with his own mortality. So, his exuberance in realizing that the ghosts had worked their magic in one night and that he has not missed Christmas Day, is so naturally infectious that the audience can not help but get caught up in it with him.

Paul Wonsek's scenic evocation of Victorian London, and Elizabeth Novak's stunning costumes complete the picture. -- When the enormous and sinister Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come appeared from a trap door spewing smoke, an audible "awesome" from a nearby child in the audience summed up the experience. Magic indeed!