Christmas present

Trinity Rep’s Carol delivers the gift of joy
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 2, 2009

 Theater_Carol_inside_main
UPLIFTING Director Birgitta Victorson has freshened things up considerably.
MARK TUREK

Christmases come and Christmases go, as psychedelic wrapping paper gives way to orderly Republican stripes, as sweet little Jimmy grows into gruff Uncle James. Yet since 1976, Trinity Repertory Company has been presenting a time capsule for audiences to step into, the predictably uplifting Adrian Hall and Richard Cumming version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. (The exception was the lugubrious 1989 version when Anne Bogart was artistic director and, one presumes, the suicide rate went up.)

This year director Birgitta Victorson has kept the Victorian gloom psychological, a much more effective method then an occasional coughing chimney sweep. We never lose sight of Scrooge's flippant disregard for the misery around him or the frightful uncertainties that soon replace it.

Before his visitations by the three ghosts, Timothy Crowe gives us an Ebenezer Scrooge who is easier to understand than usual, who is much more interesting than a simple mean-spirited curmudgeon. This Scrooge has a sense of humor, not a sadistic bemusement over suffering but rather the rational pride of a Gordon Gekko, a successful businessman amused by those not as clever with money. Here is a Scrooge who is perfectly believable — he doesn't dismiss the fellow-feeling around him at Christmas time because he is mean but rather because he's smug. Like Scrooge McDuck flopping about in his money bin, he is delighted to be so superior to the fools around him.

Crowe displays this upbeat personality at every opportunity in the early office scene. He makes it into a game when Bob Cratchit (Mauro Hantman) slowly tries to sneak another lump of coal into the stove, pouncing at the last moment and enjoying his joke. When the solicitors come to ask for money for Christmas relief, he toys with them before observing sensibly that those who would rather die than go to a workhouse had better promptly do so "and decrease the surplus population." Not mean, just Ayn Rand logical.

Even when the grey-faced ghost of his partner Jacob Marley (Joe Wilson Jr.) comes with his clanking chains, howling and dragging a moneybox, Dickens has Scrooge lightly observe: "You might be a blot of mustard, an underdone potato . . . there's more of gravy than the grave about you." But by the time Marley is dragged down into steaming purgatory by black-cowled denizens, Scrooge is aware that he has to get serious about this mend-your-ways-lesson nonsense.

He has plenty of opportunity to cheer up if he gets with the program of these helpful spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Barbara Meek), lit up like Rockefeller Center under a sparkling headdress, is brightly humming "The Little Drummer Boy." The Ghost of Christmas Present (Fred Sullivan Jr.) is a hearty, booming party of one, and Sullivan has fun all but disco dancing, entertaining himself in holiday spirit while others have their moments.

The scene toward the end, when the future dead Scrooge's bedchamber items are sold to Old Joe (Janice Duclos), has always brought the hard-earned momentum to a halt for me. This time, the scavengers sing "That's Your Account," with lyrics by Crowe and music by Eddie Carlson, and it seems as natural as the Christmas carols we've been hearing.

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