Photo: Courtesy, TheatreSquared
It was possible to have a very Fayetteville Christmas on Friday evening (Nov. 22).
The Lights of the Ozarks went up on the Fayetteville Square for the first time of the season. The new Christmas-themed bar Holidaze opened the night before and it was crowded, but not so crowded you couldn’t have a mulled wine to cut away at the rain-soaked chill. And TheatreSquared opened their Christmas offering, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” on Friday night as well.
That was the night I attended. I woke up to snow flurries on Saturday morning.
We are staring the holiday season right in the face. It’s the time of year that Mariah Carey comes out of hiding. It’s the time of year your favorite retailers debut themed cups or blast Christmas music from the in-store speakers.
Which means we’re quickly shifting into an interesting time of entertainment – the Christmas era. The Walton Arts Center’s calendar is stuffed full of Christmas-related shows, with shows like the Broadway musical version of “A Christmas Story,” “The Polar Express” and a Christmas-themed show from Texas country musician Robert Earl Keen on the docket for the next four weeks. There’s at least one holiday show at George’s Majestic Lounge as well. The point is that it’s all around you, waiting for you to see something Christmas-related.
So it is likewise time for TheatreSquared’s offering in that subgenre. “A Christmas Carol” occupies their larger West Theatre for the whole of the holiday season – a staggering 42 shows in all.
It is very much the same old Christmas show, and very much not as well. In the interest of adding a layer of freshness to a tale many of us have seen performed many times, TheatreSquared artistic director Bob Ford and associate artistic director Amy Herzberg have adapted the classic Dickensian tale of a miserly and compassionless man named Ebenezer Scrooge who is forced to confront his past, present and future to reveal truths about his current state of affairs.
What: “A Christmas Carol”
When: 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday through Sunday and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 27
Where: TheatreSquared’s new home at 447 W. Spring St., Fayetteville
Cost: $17-$49; a limited number of $10 are available for those under 30 years old
Tickets: 479-777-7477 or theatre2.org
This version of “A Christmas Carol” begins in a library, where a young boy (played by Bentonville junior high student Beck Crabb) is waiting for his father after hours on Christmas Eve with the librarian (played by Jeri Marshall). To help pass the time, she reads him a story that had just been delivered to her library – Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” of course. As she reads, the characters come to life and live out the familiar scenes in the library. She and the boy remain onstage as viewers of the proceedings.
Otherwise, it plays out much as we know. Scrooge, played by T2 veteran James Taylor Odom, begrudges his employee Bob Cratchit for taking Christmas Day off work, and can’t be bothered to pay a wage suitable to keep the Cratchit family healthy. Scrooge always retires alone to his dark and dreary home where he keeps the fire low to avoid paying more to stay warm.
But his fortunes and worldviews change when he is visited by a series of three ghosts that show him the man he was, the man he is and the one he is soon to be. Because of the permanent setting in the library, we’re left to using a little theater magic and imagination to travel with Scrooge and the spirits. I never had a hard time getting there with them.
The first half of the show plods along a little. This is a very literal translation of Dickens’ work, and I mean that to inform you much of the dialogue is pulled from that source material. This is simultaneously a treat and an element that slows our proceedings. We must chew through the script a little before we move forward. Perhaps it also feels like we’ve been there before: Here comes another ghost; I bet Scrooge will hate that. Hate he does, until his big change of heart in the waning moments of the show.
And ‘big’ is the operative word here. Odom has previously appeared on the TheatreSquared stage in the delirious “Murder for Two” and toured the country with “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” When he makes his turn, he goes for it with force. As such, the second act is a breeze.
The local set is pretty, with nooks for actors to come and go. Of all of the aesthetic elements, I was most impressed with the lighting. Warm and pleasant in the library, gloomy for many moments and flickering when spirits approached. We were told that one of the most dramatic improvements the audiences would see between the new theater space and the previous home of T2 would be in the area of stage lighting, and I think I see what they mean now.
It’s the time of year where lights sparkle all around us and we look for the meaning of Christmas. Dickens’ original novella “A Christmas Carol” was so influential some believe it inspired the togetherness and merriment that’s the traditional experience in our modern times. And speaking of traditions, T2 plans to host this show annually, Ford and Herzberg told the Fayetteville Flyer.
Christmas has come to Fayetteville. Whether you’re ready for it or not, it has arrived – and will be around for a while.