UPLIFTING Maltais and Sullivan, Jr. [Photo by Mark Turek]
As Trinity Repertory Company devotees are reminded each year at this time, the more things stay the same, the more they change.
In other words, once again the troupe is setting out to make its adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol appear fresh and new and as appealing as ever — without resorting to hip-hop caroling or a scantily-clad Mrs. Partlet.
For the 37th time, audiences are getting a chance to see the excellent adaptation by Trinity founder Adrian Hall and Richard Cumming, with original music by Cumming (through December 28).
Associate artistic director Tyler Dobrowsky’s take on the classic was so well-received last year that he is directing it again, with Fred Sullivan, Jr. taking his turn as Scrooge instead of Timothy Crowe. As someone who has seen the vast majority of Trinity versions (and others elsewhere), let me extend my mug of well-rummed eggnog in salute.
Speaking of which, for the benefit of anyone raised by wolves, the story is a simple one. Ebenezer Scrooge is a London businessman, the specific business of which is left intentionally unspecific, so as to universalize. His partner, Jacob Marley (Stephen Thorne), dies of a heart attack at work under his indifferent gaze. Seven years later, to the very night, his chain-trailing ghost returns to tell Scrooge that he will be visited by three further specters: the ghosts of Christmas past (Angela Brazil), present (Joe Wilson, Jr.), and future (Nicholas Maltais, Bedros Kevorkian), who are his only hope to change his ways. The gambit succeeds, and Scrooge turns from grumbling curmudgeon to giddy humanitarian; no drugs or blows to the head are mentioned to aid plausibility.
Getting into this tale of regret and redemption isn’t difficult for anyone who has grown a heart, as Ebenezer Scrooge eventually does. The opening narrator is quickly dispensed with in that function, but here, instead of backing out of the action, he steps into later incidental roles, enhancing the story. That’s possible because the narrator here is Dickens himself, played with gusto by Tom Gleadow. Clever. After all, who would have more emotional involvement in the proceedings than its author?
The novella was published in 1843 and instantly became popular — this was the year that the first Christmas card was issued, and the holiday was just getting rolling as a commercial occasion. So before the play begins, Dickens is addressing us in front of a replica of an actual ad announcing his last appearance in Providence, at the City Hall in 1868, when he was on the second of his American reading tours.
Sullivan does a great job as Scrooge, establishing a character whose transformation is more plausible than many interpretations. This is so because his take is that Scrooge is mean out of the sense of power the behavior gives him, not out of a cruel temperament. Brilliant.