Thursday, December 3, 2015

ASF: "A Christmas Carol"

'Tis the Season, and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is re-mounting A Christmas Carol, a reliable holiday offering adapted and directed by ASF's Artistic Director, Geoffrey Sherman, one that he continues to tweak for each of its several iterations so that no matter how familiar it is there are subtle shifts of emphasis in his script that keep Charles Dickens's classic tale engaging and magical.

Magic is the key to Sherman's storytelling in that he makes Dickens a character who performs actual magic sleights-of-hand and serves as the production's narrator. Wynn Harmon reprises the role as an effusive master of ceremonies, and conducts the evening's proceedings by signaling lighting, sound, and scene changes and even taking on a few minor roles.

With enchanting sets by Paul Wonsek, and actors dressed in Elizabeth Novak's glorious period costumes, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge -- literature's most famous skinflint and his trademark "Bah, humbug!" retort to anything that suggests Christmas cheer -- is peopled with long-time ASF actors reprising roles along with new faces in the crowd of some twenty-five thespians on stage.

On Christmas Eve, Scrooge [Rodney Clark] is visited by the Ghost of his long-deceased business partner Jacob Marley [Brik Berkes], who tells him that three other Ghosts are on their way to lead him to changing his miserly ways. -- In turn, the Ghosts of Christmases Past [Noelia Antweiler], Present [James Bowen], and Future [John Henry Carter] lead him through the signal moments in his life and encourage Scrooge to alter his behavior.

As Scrooge comes face to face with his former employer Mr. Fezziwig and his wife [Paul Hebron and Diana Van Fossen] whose generosity and infectious good-will enliven the dancing at their party, with Belle [Alice Sherman] the romantic love of his life he loses by becoming too greedy, his ever-optimistic nephew Fred [Bjorn Thjorstad], and, of course, the Cratchit family -- Bob [Jonathan Kaplan], Mrs. Cratchit [Jennifer Barnhart], and chief among their assorted children, Tiny Tim [Liam South on the night of this review] -- the road to his reclamation is magical in its simplicity and brevity: one night.

And the focus is on Scrooge throughout. Mr. Clark's performance is somewhat darker than in previous productions, a choice that in the beginning makes him a thoroughly despicable character, even though we might laugh scornfully at his diatribes against Christmas and anyone with the effrontery to celebrate the holiday in his presence. -- But this also makes his change into a man who knows best how to celebrate Christmas all the year through even more appealing. -- For all of his complaints against the holiday, Mr. Clark's Scrooge responds almost immediately to the examples thrust before him by the Ghosts, and we can watch him ever-so-gradually relax his petulance and wish for change, even though he thinks he is beyond help.

When the final moments arrive and we see the now-reclaimed Scrooge dancing, laughing, beside himself with generosity and joy, the magic has worked, and audiences smile and cheer along with him, and concur with Tiny Tim's response: "God bless us, every one!"