A Christmas Carol
With all of the adaptations of A Christmas Carol that are in the theaters, at the movies, and on television this holiday season, it can sometimes be hard to remember that the original Carol was that now most archaic of media--a book by prolific author Charles Dickens. The new production of this classic at the Stoneham Theatre seeks to return the tale to its literary roots, largely succeeding and mostly on the formidable talent of its cast, which includes Nigel Gore as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Director Diego Arciniegas writes in a press release for the show that he hopes to "sift through the text" and to have the audience "walk away feeling a little closer to the mind and heart of Charles Dickens." In his adaptation, Arciniegas certainly succeeds in quoting, well, the Dickens out of the novel. When the ensemble, ranging over Janie E. Howland’s intentionally skeletal set, use the poetry of Dickens to set a scene, the tactic works wonderfully well, allowing the audience to fill the stage with imagined sights and sounds.
However, when using the actual language of the novella means that characters are narrating their own stage actions, it gets a little tiresome. This is one chatty Carol. More action and less talk would have been desirable. It’s what makes the many dramatic (sometimes melodramatic; this is, after all, Dickens) parts of the show so compelling. The parting between Grant MacDermott as young Scrooge and Marie Polizzano as his one-time fiancée is touching, and Gore as Ebenezer is especially poignant when confronting the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Future. Gore may be less comedic than other Scrooges, but he more than makes up for it by using his Shakespeare and Company roots to good effect as he intones classic lines like "Bah, humbug!" without a hint of irony.
Yes, the production is excellently executed. Really, peopled as it is with veteran area actors such as Gabriel Kuttner as Bob Crachit, Leigh Barrett as the Ghost of Christmas Future, Susan Nitter as Mrs. Cratchit, and the especially fine Gerard Slattery and Michael Kreutz as a host of roles, it would have been a wonder if it had not been. But there are a few missed opportunities.
Arciniegas’ reverence for Dickens’ work is evident, but sometimes lends too solemn a tone to the overall production, making the humor less apparent and the party scenes less boisterous. The lowering of the highs means that Scrooge’s lows are also lessened. The production also uses far less music than other versions of Carol, perhaps to again emphasize the original story and words, but it’s a loss since the music the cast does create--largely out of very fine voices with beautifully sparse instrumentation provided mainly by onstage hand bells and violin--under the music direction of Eric Hamel is just lovely, particularly the Act One closer.
The only real misstep is in the character of Jacob Marley. Actor Mark Cartier is, for no apparent reason, costumed to suggest Lon Chaney in The Mummy, and has delivers his lines in a whispering rasp.
Perhaps Arciniegas’ adaptation will develop in future versions, and certainly the accomplished cast will continue to deepen their already fine characterizations and to smooth out a few opening weekend bobbles of lines or pacing. For the fresh take on a classic where Dickens’ poetic language comes to the fore, Stoneham’s production of A Christmas Carol is finely wrought, if not exuberant, entertainment.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol continues through December 27 at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street in Stoneham. For more information visit www.stonehamtheatre.org