A few folks braved the cold temperatures and sleet-covered roads Thursday night for the preview performance of A Christmas Carol at Nadine Baum Studios. Sleet faintly plinking on the building’s metal roof added to the authenticity of this original adaptation of a holiday classic.
This is the third show of TheatreSquared’s eighth season. It was wonderfully adapted and directed by Morgan Hicks, who also serves as director of education and program development for TheatreSquared.
The basics are very familiar to anyone who’s seen the many film and other incarnations of the Charles Dickens tale, originally published as a novella 170 years ago. But this stage performance is particularly intimate with a very special heart. It is a touching treat, perfect for the entire family this holiday season.
Running just under 90 minutes with no intermission, it’s a condensed version of the well-known story. But the highlights are all there, the critical pieces that connect the memorable characters and pivotal events for the overall message.
Speaking directly to the audience, as they would throughout the show, the characters early on emphasized that Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s former business partner, was dead. Otherwise, they assured, none of the rest of their tale would make sense.
Scrooge is, of course, the notoriously cranky and miserly businessman whose heart is hardened and cold, with a “humbug” attitude toward Christmas. His employee, Bob Cratchit, is underpaid and underappreciated as he works by candlestick for warmth.
On Christmas Eve, seven years after Marley’s death, Marley’s ghost confronts Scrooge while he sleeps. Scrooge doesn’t believe he’s seeing Marley’s ghost, blaming the apparition instead on undigested food.
Marley, burdened by heavy chains that represent mistakes and missteps in his life, warns Scrooge to make different choices while he still can, to avoid a similarly miserable afterlife. He tells Scrooge that three more ghosts will visit him during the night, showing him scenes from the Christmases of his past, his present and his potential future.
The ghost showing Scrooge the past arrives under a bright light, donning a simple white robe. Wearing his dressing gown and slippers, Scrooge joins the ghost for a trip through his childhood and young adulthood. He sees that relationships and joyful moments can bring more happiness than the money and success he’s focused on.
As Scrooge recalls and reflects on his life, this show raises the questions: What is the real value of happiness? And what is the true cost of living without it?
The ghost illustrating the present wears a fur-topped cape and a crown of glittery holly leaves. He’s cheerful and constantly chuckling, which annoys Scrooge. He shows Scrooge the joy that Bob Cratchit’s family finds despite their modest means and their sickly boy, Tiny Tim.
Some versions of this tale are dire, scary and depressing, despite the ultimate uplifting message. But this one has humor woven throughout, with a spirit and a hope that are tangible. There are moments of pure silliness, like the way the Cratchit family literally dives in and devours their feast of roast goose, cleaning the carcass.
Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, has unrelentingly tried to connect to Scrooge by inviting him to spend Christmas with his family each year. As the ghost and Scrooge visit Fred’s home, Scrooge sees what he’s missing by shunning his only real family.
The ghost revealing what is yet to be doesn’t speak to Scrooge, and only uses gestures. Shown his tombstone, Scrooge realizes that no one will be saddened by his death when it comes.
As Scrooge tries to make sense of the things he’s been shown in the night, he asks the ghost if the scenes show things that will be or that only might be. Then, Scrooge falls to his knees in desperation, resolving to do things differently.
In just that one night, filled with dark, shadowed dreams, Scrooge is changed. Come daylight on Christmas Day, he is as giddy as a child for the chance to set some things right. He buys a huge turkey and sends it anonymously to the Cratchit home, then finally accepts the invitation to join his nephew, Fred, for the holiday celebration. He is welcomed with open arms.
This cast of eight does a wonderful job of portraying the major characters as well as various ensemble members. As a particularly delightful treat, the use of instruments was woven into this telling of the story — from hand bells to fiddle and guitar, all played by cast members.
The costumes and accents easily place the audience in Victorian Era England. And the set design is perfect for the look and function of this show, with a staircase leading to an elevated walkway. Screened partitions on each side allow figures and shapes to be backlit, creating silhouettes from the shadows cast. Shadows include the face of Marley’s ghost in the door knocker and the turkeys that hang in a shop window.
These real shadows are also metaphors in this story. The shadows are what trail behind someone’s choices and actions, the wake and impression made by their life.
These shadows are also the things that haunt us. They are decisions that once made — for good or bad results — stay with us. There is no chance to undo them. In this story, Scrooge is given a chance, not to correct the past but to change his course and alter his future. That is also a chance we all have, if we’re willing.
There are 22 more chances to see A Christmas Carol, with performances continuing today through Sunday and each Thursday through Sunday in December at Nadine Baum Studios. For tickets, call (479) 443-5600 or visit the website at theatre2.org.
Though today’s 7:30 p.m. performance will continue as planned, the opening reception for this show will be held following the 7 p.m. Sunday performance.
For more updates on how inclement weather might affect performances, call the box office or check the TheatreSquared Facebook page, Twitter feed (@TheatreSquared) or website.