Merry, merry

Trinity Rep’s delightful Christmas Carol
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 5, 2006

A HAPPY ENDING: Timothy Crowe and Austin Adams.
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is as chock-full of feelings as a fruitcake has calories. That’s why the visual element has been so important in Trinity Repertory Company’s always colorful, sometimes splendiferous, annual stagings. The sweet sentimentality can sneak in through our eyes like love.

Ebenezer Scrooge has his soul saved as usual, through shock and awe, but this time the main effect of the treatment is wonder rather than fear. Artistic director Curt Columbus continues his first season here by giving a lot to delight us, as our favorite old miser is turned into a child, along with us, over the course of his adventure.

The 30th anniversary production of the marvelous Adrian Hall and Richard Cumming adaptation remains a treat (through December 31), even as some of its elements don’t come fully alive to their potential.

This version doesn’t have its setting create a dominant mood, such as the factory with its fiery furnace or the cold London streets of prior versions. Instead, we are reminded that the ghostly visitors are from the imagination of Scrooge (William Damkoehler, Timothy Crowe), springing from his pre-curmudgeon childhood and youth. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Cynthia Strickland, Anne Scurria), for example, arrives in a balloon pulled by a winged carousel horse. Since this is all Scrooge’s reverie, we sometimes hear her speak the words of the people he is recalling.

Scrooge has a doppelgänger, a life-size bunraku puppet that counts coins along with him and serves as a reminder of his alienation from himself, while the Reader presents Dickens’s description of Scrooge’s mind remaining in the counting house about his business. Eventually Ebenezer finally realizes that the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Stephen Thorne, Joe Wilson Jr.) is actually there, which concentrates his mind wonderfully, so the puppet collapses and zooms away.

The set design as well as the puppets are by Blair Thomas. At the back of the thrust stage, above the red velvet curtain, a children’s choir sings the original music by Cumming, directed by Christine Noel. The music element comes across as thin, however, between the soft voices and the single keyboard being used instead of the gaiety of multiple musicians roaming about. Oddly minimal use is made of the space behind the tantalizing curtain, which is divided into four sections, suggesting potential surprises that are not to be. The single look we get behind it is fascinating, though. Scrooge stares into a glass globe as his nephew Fred (Thorne, Wilson) and his company make fun of him. The ingenious part is that we see Scrooge’s various reactions projected onto a screen at the side of the stage. A good touch, if over-extended.

Considering the emphasis on visual impressions, the simple green cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Mark Peckham, Richard Donnelly) stops the visual momentum. In contrast, the other two ghosts are cleverly conceived. Past is outfitted in the finery of the court of Louis XIV, as befits childhood memories of festivity, such as the Christmas gala thrown by the generous boss he and Marley had apprenticed to. (The gauzy, faded-color costumes by William Lane perfectly capture the golden light of pleasant recollections.)

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