The dickens you say!

Plenty of laughter and good humor in Blue Room's reading of classic Christmas taleimage in production

“God bless us every one!”

“God bless us every one!”

Photo by Brittany Waterstradt

A Christmas Carol: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, now showing at the Blue Room Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sundays,Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m., through Dec. 21.
Tickets: $12-$15
Blue Room Theatre
139 W. First St.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the iconic Christmas story, rivaled only by Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and (perhaps) Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story on the list of holiday entertainments we’ve all seen roughly once a year on stage or the big or little screens for as long as we can remember. That being the case, presenting A Christmas Carol on stage becomes more a matter of nuanced delivery than innovative storytelling. We all know the basic story of miserly, bitterly selfish Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghost-guided journey of transformation into a kindly and generous benefactor of the poor. And since no surprises can be imposed upon the basic plot without turning it into a different story entirely, it’s up to the cast, crew and director to show us the story in a way that illuminates it in a fresh light without marring its heartwarming quality and intent.

The current Blue Room Theatre production wisely goes directly to Dickens’ original text for its version of the story, and has Dickens himself (played by Steve Swim) read it to us from his armchair as the 30-person cast—drawn from the Blue Room’s Young Company as well as some of the adults who regularly grace the main stage—re-create the actions and speeches of the characters. This third-person narrative style is quite effective at conveying Dickens’ storytelling skill, and enhances the simple stage setting with the richness and humor of his language. The small portion of the set holding only a doorway and a tiny bed where Scrooge (Nick Anderson) begins his journey to redemption becomes, via this narrative technique, “a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building … where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again.”

It’s here where Scrooge encounters the ghost of his former partner, Marley (Tony Daum), bedecked in chains and mournfully intoning his lamentations and forebodings. And it is from here that this Ghost of Christmas Past conveys to Scrooge a vision of his younger self (Jackson Indar) enjoying books as a solitary schoolchild who is rescued from solitude by the advent of his loving sister, Little Fan (Caitlen Comendant).

The scene of the holiday ball at the offices of Scrooge’s former employer, Fezziwig (John Davis), is a riot of costumes, music and dancing, populated by cheerful youngsters as well as the Santa-like Fezziwig and his cheery wife (Tasha Forks). Some of the youngsters’ speeches were blurred into inaudibility by the volume of the background music, but it didn’t detract from the sense of fun.

The fun grinds to a halt when Scrooge is guided through a vision of his young adult self (Travis Crowley) losing the love of his betrothed when she perceives that his priorities have changed from romance to avarice, and is then shown a vision of her fulfilled and wealthy life as a happy mother of several children.

Deposited back in his lonely room, Scrooge is joined next by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Elaina Dart), who guides him to the iconic scene of his impoverished employee, Bob Cratchit, at home with his wife and several children, including the crippled waif, Tiny Tim (Bliss Kozielski), as they cheerily prepare for their humble holiday feast. Cratchit’s heartfelt toast to his employer, and the astringent reply of his wife (Sharon DeMeyer) regarding Scrooge’s stinginess and mean-heartedness provide the flame that begins to melt the miserly heart before Scrooge is borne off to view his young nephew offering equally charitable views of his uncle.

A child in the audience next to me found the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (John Davis) frightening, and I couldn’t blame him, as (in Dickens’ words) “… it was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched [skeletal] hand.” The vision it points to—of the aftermath of his own unlamented death—provides the straw that heals the camel’s back, as it were, and from there the story surges to its inevitable, cathartically sentimental climax, leading Scrooge and the audience into a manic outburst of fellow-feeling as he showers generosity upon his formerly scorned social underlings.

It’s a feeling worth having, and sharing.