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A Christmas Carol (2003)

a Historical Drama
by Dickens / Bell

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 831

SHOWING : November 28, 2003 - December 28, 2003



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Humbug indeed
by troyhill
Monday, December 8, 2003
Ghost of Christmas That-Should-Take-a-Few-Years-Off-or-Totally-Reinvent-Itself

A few members of my family have long wanted to see the Alliance’s production of “A Christmas Carol”, so this year we all went. The Alliance Theatre dusts off the cloaks and top hats for David H. Bell’s “A Christmas Carol” promising to “take you back to Victorian London” and spill grand spectacle over the stage and “right in your heart”. Lower your expectations or start a new tradition by reading the book with your family.

First, things I liked. If there’s one thing the Alliance has going for it, it’s the scenic department, and this show was another fine example of their work. Set designer D. Martyn Bookwalter makes good use of the elaborate fly and trap systems, but muddies the waters a bit by going for the overall feel of “a vast Victorian warehouse filled with a lifetime’s worth of foreclosure acquisitions.” A cluttered assortment of old dining chairs stacked at the sides of the stage and a colloage of old rugs seem to have been the bulk of the collateral confiscated by this financier. The costumes were also nice, as you would expect from a shop that must have stockpiles of the appropriate uniforms collected over the years. On the matter of individual performances, I believe Brad Sherrill as Bob Cratchit and Rebecca Blouin as Belle/Ensemble were absolute stand outs, while Elisabeth Omilami delivered a lively (though distinctly un-Victorian) performance as Mrs. Fezziwig and Scrooge’s housekeeper. Sherrill’s Cratchit especially has a warm feel, a springy step and contagious good will. Interestingly enough, I think his performance in what many consider to be a rather ho-hum role far exceeds his performances of the past summer at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival.

David Bell’s adaptation and direction of Charles Dickens’ classic morality tale lacks any sense of dramatic momentum, with Scrooge’s character arc more like a character bump. The action in general trips along at a pace that seems more concerned about choreographing the caroler mob and getting to the next snippet of a Christmas song than investing in the redemption of the supposed central character’s soul. In the first act, Chris Kayser‘s Scrooge comes off as a non-descript, disagreeable old fellow with a few odd views on holidays and a not so palpable fear of apparitions. Scrooge is dull and flat to the point that you hardly expect him to inspire anyone’s attention at all much less their vitriol. The “Humbugs” are delivered as throw-aways, rather like clearing the throat than hurling a dart, and “Ahhhs” of terror sound more like the “Ahhhs” of a routine throat check. The character proves even less interesting as by the visit from Christmas Past which closes the first act, Scrooge seems ready to change his ways, leaving you to wonder if the other two ghosts might just get the extra time off to do some last minute shopping. Several of my guests at the performance were perplexed by this as well. The best moment of the first act was the effective use of the large window frame fly as the chained and tormented do-badders, companions of Marley in the afterlife, reach and grasp for Scrooge’s soul.

The second act brings LaParee Young as Christmas Present. Mr. Young’s performance as Fezziwig relied almost entirely on a weirdly cartoonish frivolity that distracts from any sense of heart-felt goodness and generosity that would be cherished in the fellow. Christmas Present had a similar problem manifested in his continuously forced laughter. As I said, Scrooge was already repentant by the end of the first act, and he fades from central character to near oblivion in the second. We get no sense of the true effect of the scenes on Scrooge, which is probably due to the fact that the character has nowhere to go. What’s left to do? Bring in another ghost anyway.

Christmas Future bubbles up out of Scrooge’s bed to show a world in which Tiny Tim dies and Scrooge’s bedclothes are stolen from his own dead body by his housekeeper. Of course when Scrooge wakes up he’s ready to set things right, even managing to get used to the breathless laugh that escapes his body. He orders up the prize turkey and has it delivered to the Cratchits, but unfortunately, we are given no scene at their house when the gifts are delivered, no scene at Fred’s where Scrooge finally meets Peg. The play flies on, quickly wrapping up the business of Scrooge accepting the invite to Fred’s, taking time for a jokey-joke, giving some money to the fundraisers, thanking the carolers, giving Bob a raise and telling the Cratchit children they’re all going to be his family too. Insert “God bless us every one” here and Atlanta’s odd standing ovation tradition.

On the whole, this unenthusiastic production makes me wonder why the Alliance has continued to ride such an obviously tired horse of 14 years, especially when I read Susan Booth’s comments welcoming the audience “to a celebration of tradition and new beginnings.” While the sentiment is nice, the direction and performances seem largely uninspired, and, in some cases, just plain bored. Audiences can go to any number of local community and semi-pro theatres to see a passable production of “A Christmas Carol” that is likely to have more heart or at least more enthusiasm, and for far less than $100+/family. The Alliance is surely capable of producing an innovative version of this story or a high-quality holiday alternative to reinvigorate its artists and its audience. As it is, the company should learn a lesson from its own Scrooge or the ghost of Christmas Future will just keep showing us the past.
by Dedalus
Friday, December 5, 2003
Everything about this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is big – a big cast, a big set, big songs added, big scenes added that Dickens never dreamed of, and, a big running time. I may be Scroogelike in admitting my experience at last Saturday’s first preview was a little bit, well, underwhelming.

To be fair, this was a preview, and to apply praise where it’s due, the cast, from the seasoned pros to the youngest children, was uniformly excellent, giving opening-night quality performances. Chris Kayser was an outstanding Scrooge, ably showing us the flinty old man and the disillusioned youth behind the wrinkles -- For once, I could see the kindly Scrooge of the end even in his most cranky moments.

Also, to be fair, the large audience at this preview enjoyed the show immensely, apparently, much more than I did.

I had two primary complaints on this production. The "new" scenes (Fezziwig ending up in poverty, and Belle ending up as a slum worker) added nothing to the story but a little bit of pathos and a lot of time.

More hurtful, though, was the fuzzy conceptualization. Walking into the theatre, we are treated to the seat of an enormous and intricately detailed set showing us the warehouse where Scrooge stores goods obtained through his mortgage foreclosures. This is a wonderful idea, more or less equating the "clutter" of Scrooge's memories and life with the clutter of stuff he "wears like chains" throughout his life. And it places the actions of the story squarely in the Scrooge's head (probably where it belongs).

Unfortunately, the show is stages as if it were a straightforward London setting, including many sequences unwitnessed (or un-remembered) by Scrooge. In fact, the cast goes through a rather cacophonous medley of Christmas Carols before we even meet Scrooge.

And All the Caroling, while nice within the contect of the Holiday, only serve to lengthen the play.

It's ironic that I find more pleasure in the tapes Patrick Stewart one-man reading of the story, than I found in all the overblown and overstuffed excesses of this production. Bigger isn't always better, and to ignore the concept you set up with such obvious affection and expense is a true Humbug!



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