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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Christmas Carol

It's Christmas Day! I haven't missed it. — Scrooge
Philip Goodwin
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
In 2007 the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey first presented British playwright Neil Bartlett’s version of A Christmas Carol. It has returned again under Bonnie J. Monte’s inventive direction to remind us just how good a version it is.

Of all the attempts to bring a fresh perspective to all those bahs and humbugs, this is, for me, the one with the most heart. More important, it's the one most faithful to the core values and sentiments of the Charles Dickens novel. One thing is certain: it is definitely unlike any other version you have seen before. Although it arrives with a few changes in the staging, Monte can be lauded for helming another astonishingly imaginative production.

Not to take away from the pleasures derived from other fine productions around us, this one takes the yuletide cake for its clever resolve to resonate with only the choicest of Dickens own words. You might call it a minimalist spectacular, or “Dickens light.” All of his beloved characters are portrayed by a cast of eleven who do a lot more than don a different hat or change a costume or affect a personality change on the spot. For starters, all the sound effects are provided by the actors and prove charming accessories to the story, as does an a cappella group singing Christmas carols.

The onomatopoeic beauty of Dickens' text is distilled in humorous ways including actors who provide the chiming and resounding bongs of a clock. The three clerks, including Bob Cratchit (Greg Jackson), who sit in the drafty cold offices of Scrooge and Marley, convey the tediousness of their work with their concerted voices. In unison as if prompted by a metronome, they pick up their quill pens and put them to their task “scratch, scratch, scratch.” Adaptor Bartlett's brilliant notion to capture the spirit of Dickens' text by using only the most essential words such as “gruel, thin” and “time, time, money, money,” is matched by fine performances who make all that is essential extraordinary.

What is particularly rewarding is the excellence and integrity of all the acting. Philip Goodwin is terrific as the self-centered embittered and mean skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge. And while it is always a treat to watch the transformation of a despicable Scrooge into a decent and loving member of the community, it is in the early scenes as Scrooge abuses a beggar on the street and bellows at his nephew and the clerks that Goodwin establishes the presence and personality of a man whose bitterness is very deeply rooted.

There is no lack of eerie and scary doings. Be prepared to shiver and shake as Scrooge is haunted by Jacob Marley's fearsome ghost (Greg Jackson) and also by the draped-all-in-white Ghost of Christmas Past (Erin Partin) who takes Scrooge back to his childhood. Soon enough it’s time for the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ames Adamson), who appears with his glittering adornments and says, “Christmas is coming,” to whisk Scrooge away in a flash through the walls and into the cold starry night. Draped in a black shroud and walking presumably on stilts, the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come (Clark Carmichael) is sure to send yet another chill down your spine. Amidst the fearsome doings is the warmth that comes from Bob Cratchit's family, including the crippled Tiny Tim (Blake Pfeil), as they gather together in their modest home. Among the supporting cast, John Ahlin stands out as a joyously blustery Mr. Fessiwig.

Production values are superior as Adam Miecielica’s effectively somber settings are enhanced by Michael Giannitti’s mood-setting lighting. They serve as in a pop-up story book from a London street, to Scrooge's office, his dark and depressing bedroom and over to the Cratchit's loving home. Hugh Hanson’s costumes admirably reflect Victorian styles. I dare you not to come away wanting more of Dickens' ode to Christmas, especially after Mrs. Cratchit (Tina Stafford) brings to the table the cooked goose, the apple sauce sweetened potatoes with sage and onions, and pudding flambé and give thanks for what they have. It was heart-warming to see and hear audience members turn to each other after Tiny Tim says, “God bless us, everyone,” and wish each other “Merry Christmas.” This is A Christmas Carol that offers all the prescribed chills, warmth, comedy, and drama you could want at this holiday time.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Adapted for the stage by Neil Bartlett
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast: Ames Adamson (Ghost of Chrismas Present etc.), John Ahlin (Mr. Fezziwig, etc.), Clark Carmichael (Fred etc.) Philip Goodwin (Ebenezer Scrooge), Greg Jackson (Bob Crachit/Jacob Marley’s ghost, etc.), Susan Maris (Belle, etc.), Erin Partin (Ghost of Christmas Past, etc.), Tina Stafford (Mrs. Cratchit/Mrs. Fezziwig), Cameron Berner (Peter Cratchit/Wind, etc.) Erica Knight (The other Miss Fezziwig/ A Shopper, etc.), Blake Pfeil (Tiny Tim/Young Scrooge etc.)
Scenic Designer: Adam Miecielica
Costume Designer: Hugh Hanson
Lighting Designer: Michael Giannitti
Sound Designer: Rich Dionne
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Main Stage at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre located on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road) Madison, NJ.
(973) 408 – 5600
Tickets ($10 - $70)
Performances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays at 7:30 PM, Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 PM, Saturday and Sundays at 2 PM, select Thursdays and Fridays at 2 PM. There are no performances on 12/24 or 12/25.
From: 12/01/11
Opening: 12/03/11
Closing: 01/01/12
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/04/11
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