Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, December 1999
"I have endeavoured in this ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly and no one wish to lay it."
- Charles Dickens, 1843
I know there are people out there who just love Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". There must be, or this maudlin tale would not still be haunting us every December for 156 years! I am not one of those people. I confess that just seeing the title turns me into the most unreformed of Scrooges - I start muttering "Bah! Humbug!" and am seized with a desire to wring Tiny Tim's tiny neck before he can finish off "God bless us, every one!"
But for those legions who love this tale, Main Street stage has mounted quite a festive and interesting version. When I spoke to Artistic Director Spencer Trova about this year's version of Dickens, he promised me "a one-man show with lots of other people". This seemed an oxymoron, but he was right. Trova has taken his one man "Scrooge" which graced the Main Street Stage last Christmas, and added a lot of other actors without changing the essential focus on Scrooge himself. One of my criticisms last year was that Dickens never writes about just one man and that no one man can do Dickens sprawling vision of mid-nineteenth century London justice. The addition of more bodies on the stage gives a better picture of Scrooge as voyeur of his own life, and its impact on those around him.
Trova is delightful as Scrooge, although I still wish he would let someone else - like the very talented Bruce MacDonald - take over the roles of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Despite interesting lighting effects and Trova's ability to change character in the twinkling of an eye, there are still those awkward nano-seconds when he is just an actor in a night shirt scuttling from one patch of light to the other on the stage. MacDonald was just born to play Christmas Present, but I will settle for his truly terrifying Ghost of Marley (just a warning that he might be very frightening to young children) and his festive Fezziwig since this is all he is allowed this year.
One thing that Main Street has done very well this year is to capture the darkness and chill of Christmas time before electricity and central heating. The costumes, sets, and lighting work together to bring to life a quintessential Dickensian world on the stage. The small Cratchits huddled around the fire, the Fezziwigs dancing the Virginia Reel, Scrooge inspecting his small, dark room for ghosts by the light of one candle. These are holiday scenes that we no longer experience and that bring back, for me at least, a holiday without the glare and greed of the modern Christmas.
The distaff side of the cast disport themselves very well too, although I found Sarah Sullivan overly intense as Belle. I wouldn't want to marry anyone as whiney as her either! But Diedre Bollinger is delightful as Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Cratchit and that old hag who steals the trousers off of Scrooge's barely dead bones. And Lindsay S. Cabrall brings youthful enthusiasm to her roles, notably as Scrooge's sister.
And those little Cratchits! Hayley Broderick is just the picture of pre-Victorian childhood, and Jorden Franklin is just fine as Tiny Tim - even if I do have the urge to club him with his crutch before he can finish that famous sentence. Never mind me. I should just be boiled in my own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through my heart.
"A Christmas Carol" runs weekends through December 19 at the Main Street Stage, 55 Main Streeet in North Adams. The show runs an hour and fifty minutes with one intermission. Call the box office at 413-663-3240 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999