The more things stay the same, the more they change; at least that's so regarding Trinity Repertory Company's A Christmas Carol (through December 31). Every year on Washington Street, they task themselves with resurrecting the Charles Dickens tale by breathing new life into it.
IN HUMBUG MODE Hantman and Drea.
Adapted by Trinity Rep founder Adrian Hall and Trinity composer Richard Cumming, the family favorite has had 33 prior outings, some years with alternating Scrooges in double the shows, and some years with a female Scrooge. Once children labored in a clanking, hissing Industrial Revolution-era factory.
The director this year is Michael Perlman, a recent graduate of the Brown/Trinity MFA theater program, and he says he's aimed for the heart of the story: Ebenezer Scrooge's initially flinty, eventually well-warmed heart, thawed after all those sparks are struck by ghostly visitors.
Bravely — audaciously — he accomplishes this in a significantly revised version of the hallowed Hall text. Eliminating some familiar dialogue and interchanges, reshuffling others, he even adds a line here and there to punch up a scene or interplay.
The result is a fresh and lively Christmas Carol that will please both those well familiar with the show and those new to it.
Having seen these productions for nearly three decades, I think the only version that approached this one in ingenuity was Peter Gerety's take in 1991. But he just found clever little ways to refashion what we were familiar with seeing; Perlman does that and more.
This year's Ebenezer Scrooge is inhabited by Mauro Hantman, who has the requisite lanky stature and emotional range to convey our favorite curmudgeon. Before we meet him, we see a red door stage center, sporting a wreath apparently put on the neighborhood ogre's office door as a joke. He's inured to the kind holiday wishes of his nephew Fred (Brandon Drea) and his meek , mistreated clerk Bob Cratchit (Richard Williams).
Instead of in a background prologue, the death of Scrooge's late business partner Jacob Marley (Matt Clevy) is woven into the singing of the chorus and the Dies Irae as a grim memory while Scrooge counts his money. Soon returning as a chained, white-clad flying ghost — lunging out of the bedroom bank safe Scrooge has instead of a mere money box — Clevy has the stature and intensity to be an especially fearsome menace to the initially dismissive Scrooge.
The emphasis on Scrooge's point of view comes up a lot, mostly through underscored memories — thinking he's glimpsing his beloved dead sister Fan among street carolers, watching his old boss Fezziwig (Richard Donelly) painstakingly teach the boy Scrooge dance steps.
As the Ghost of Christmas Past, Rachael Warren never dims a fervent inner glow that perfectly captures such heartfelt nostalgia. The Ghost of Christmas Present is simultaneously and buoyantly played by Joe Wilson Jr. and Jude Sandy, sometimes speaking together for emphasis, sometimes taking turns. Cleverly, no one plays the Ghost of Christmas Future; there are only spotlights that pierce the stage smoke in answer to Scrooge's questions about his fate.