Humbug revisited

A Christmas Carol

Dylan Sneed and David Silberman prepare for the “God bless us every one!” scene. Don’t forget your tissue.

Dylan Sneed and David Silberman prepare for the “God bless us every one!” scene. Don’t forget your tissue.

Rated 4.0

There’s no better place to see a classic Victorian Christmas tale than in a classic Victorian Christmas town.

When you walk through downtown Nevada City this time of year, the Christmas mood is contagious. There are horse-drawn carriages clopping past garland-festooned historic buildings. Then you get to the Nevada Theatre—built in 1865, just 20 years after Charles Dickens published his famous holiday story A Christmas Carol—and the transformation to Victorian England is complete.

While the outside of the theater sings of Christmas cheer, the inside is more in tune with Dickens’ gloomy London days. The stage is bleak, with dank staircases on each side; a large black-brick fireplace; and the dark-wood paneling of a cold, dismal bedroom.

Foothill Theatre Company’s stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol captures both the dismal plight of London’s poor and the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from a miserable old coot to the keeper of the Christmas spirit.

This production is a collaborative effort that started months ago, when the actors worked on ideas for how to make the familiar story fresh while keeping with the traditional rendering. The finished project is a shared vision, according to director Philip Charles Sneed. It is both “a ghost story and a tale of redemption.” It’s a success—one that provides the familiar story while offering creative touches that liven up the telling.

The play’s light moments are interspersed with gloomier, ghostly scenes using creeping fog, vibrating spirit voices and spotlights that cast long shadows upon the theater walls. Other touches that evoke the period are storybook shadow figures, strange puppets that portrayed the wandering Christmas spirits, and a wonderful symphony of street sounds.

A nine-person ensemble creates the whole cast of characters, complete with cross-gender performances that had kids laughing when they figured out some of the men were really trouser-wearing women and that some of the women were dress-wearing men.

The cast is a talented group, but it’s Scrooge that makes or breaks any production of A Christmas Carol. In this role, David Silberman delivers a memorable performance. He starts with the empty shell of a man, grumpy as all get-out. Then, he slowly warms as he transforms. And in the end, when Scrooge giggles as he makes a snow angel, his Christmas spirit fills the theater and spills out into the streets of Nevada City.