CREATURE FEATURE The 'Carol' crew. [Photo by Mark Sven Oltedale]
At this time of year, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is such a cash cow for theaters that you can almost hear the mooing. The Rhode Island Shakespeare Company, the resident troupe at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston, is the latest to present the classic (through December 21). The Big Nazo Lab is helping out with some fun puppetry for the ghosts.
Unfortunately, this is largely a vanity production. The frequently clever adaptation was written by Joe Wallace, who directs himself in the role of Scrooge (in his spare time, he serves as assistant production coordinator at the Courthouse).
The best aspect of this adaptation is the refreshing breath of humor that breezes through many scenes, though that sometimes makes for a conflict in tone when things need to get serious. Such a conflict crops up almost immediately, when Scrooge establishes himself as truly mean-spirited, viciously so, instead of as a tyrant merely bemused by the power he wields. Right after his opening fulmination at Bob Cratchit (Jed Van Dale), he lightly banters: “Kindly come into my office,” and then, “That wasn’t kindly enough. Come in again.” Continuing in good humor for the rest of the story, he dismisses nuns who enter his counting house soliciting for the poor: “Good afternoon. I have to wash my hair.” And to nephew Fred (John Robert Faiola), who invites him to Christmas dinner: “Good afternoon. I have to wash my money, or something.”
This Fred isn’t merely in a good mood, not letting his grumpy uncle dampen his spirits — he exits mischievously teasing the old man with “and a merry Kwanzaa” and such. When Scrooge’s long-dead partner Jacob Marley (David Price) appears — a life-size bunraku puppet wrapped in chains — to tell him that three ghosts will be showing up, he is especially eager to depart because his eternal punishment is he always has to pee. The absurdity of the confrontation is enhanced by Scrooge wearing Grinch pajamas and a pink bathrobe throughout the play.
When the Ghost of Christmas Past (Kiara Wallace, voiced by Melanie Kane), takes Scrooge back to his old schoolyard, the curmudgeon softens, saying, “I was a child here. And over there. And there. . . .” Sincerely felt absurdity has already been established, so the silly humor works. At a Christmas party in the factory where young Scrooge used to work, the festive mood allows Mrs. Fezziwig (Meryn Flynn) to belt out “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” In contrast, Cratchit later sings Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” all of which prompts Scrooge to declare, “My life has become a bad musical!”
Breaking into song could make scenes overstay their welcome, but that doesn’t happen. However, the exchange where Scrooge as a young man is spurned by his betrothed Belle (Danielle Lawhorne) is oddly overextended. Here and there such bumpy timing and pacing show that a surer directorial hand was needed at the helm.