Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, December 1998
Manic Stage enters the annual Dickens frenzy this year with their own adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" entitled "Scrooge" (not to be confused with the abysmal musical film of that name released many years ago.) I am happy to say this is a fine attempt to breathe new life into an old story. Actor and adapter Spencer Trova is a joy to watch as the centerpiece of this production.
Unfortunately, this adaptation by Trova and director Gordon Heble can't decide whether it is a one man show for Trova or a two person play. Trova has the talent and energy to sustain an evening, but Dickens is a poor choice for a one man show. Dickens is never about one man, but about all of society. In many cases Trova does play both Scrooge and the character(s) with whom he is interacting, and much is lost in the effort. You are left with a man talking to himself for long stretches, which is always awkward.
At other times Trova gets to interact with the charming Gayle O'Brien, who plays the few female roles in the tale. Hard as Trova and Hebler have worked to distinguish character with voice, posture, lighting and space, it is always more interesting to watch two people interact than one person relate a two sided conversation.
I was for the first time impressed with Hebler's lighting design, which is essential in identifying character and space for the show. I see from the program that Theatrix Lighting Design is to be thanked for "making their state of the art lighting equipment available to the creative" and thank them we should. Their loan proves Hebler's talent as a lighting designer when he is given adequate equipment to work with.
Putting the schizophrenic aspect of the show aside, Trova and O'Brien do a masterful job of bringing Dickens' tale to life in all of its dark and awful glory. Scrooge learns his lesson, but he learns it in a painful and terrifying manner. Parents should remember that this is not a tale for children, especially this production which assumes an intimate knowledge of the story to understand who is who and what is what. For a child who has never seen or read this tale before, Trova and Hebler's adaptation would be frightening and incomprehensible.
I was pleased to see an almost full house at the performance I attended. Since the Manic Stage launched its operations this past summer they have never failed to present ambitious and untraditional work utilizing the cream of the local talent crop. "Scrooge" is no exception - it deserves to be seen and the theatre deserves to be supported.
"Scrooge" runs through December 13 at the Manic Stage, 55 Main Street, North Adams; and then transfers to the Berkshire Museum. Call 413-662-2323 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1998