Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Christmas Classics Radio Theater presents
Also see Dean's review of Annie
Don't be misled by the "Radio Theater" part of the title. It's not just actors standing around reading from scripts in their hands, pretending that they're in a radio studio. It starts out that way, but the action refuses to be confined to a small studio, and at times breaks out into a more traditional theatrical staging. This is accomplished very cleverly and fluidly, and I congratulate Becky Mayo for coming up with this adaptation. Just about every word is by Dickens, but the idea to stage it this way was Becky's. (That's not to say that other companies have not done similar stagingsI just don't know of any.)
The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is most likely familiar to every theatergoer. It's one of the staples of American culture, even though imported from England, and most Americans have grown up with it in some form or other. (The Mr. Magoo version? Uncle Scrooge McDuck?) So how do you keep it fresh?
First of all, you abridge it. I keep forgetting how wordy Dickens is, even in his novellas. I don't have the patience for that kind of verbosity anymore, although it can be amusing in small doses. Becky has wisely trimmed it down to a two hour running time, including an intermission. Secondly, you come up with a non-traditional staging concept, which we have already mentioned. Thirdly, you cast it with good actors.
Everyone, and I mean every one of the 17 people on stage, is on their game, and most of them play more than one part. For example, a sound effects person from the "radio studio" will suddenly move to the front of the stage and become Mrs. Cratchit, then go back to doing sound effects. And it all seems very natural.
The two children, Athena Swartz and J.R. Ramoso (the Tiny Tim), are already at home on stage and their voices project well. The senior members of the cast (and I hope I'm not insulting anybody here) must have cumulatively a couple centuries of experience in the theater, and it shows. Rick Wiles, Hugh Witemeyer, Alan Hudson, Linda Williams, Frank Melcori and Brian Hansen are all veterans of Albuquerque stages, and it's good to see that they continue to do such good work.
Ray Orley is a perfect fit for the role of Scrooge (again, no insult implied). The right age, the right voice, the right acting. Tom Pentecost has recently come to New Mexico, and is good as Bob Cratchit. The other players (Soraya Baraque, Jennifer Benoit, Virginia Chavez, Rebecca Dawson, Erica Entrop and Michelle Varela) deserve careers as long and varied as those of the theater "elders" they are working with.
The set design by Barbara Bock pretty realistically replicates a sound studio, but allows space for action to take place outside of it as well. The whole show is fluently directed by the adapter, Becky Mayo.
I have only two quibbles. One is that most of the characters speak with American accents, but then every once in a while, some characters will come out with florid English accents. Regarding accents, I think, it should be all or none. I would have preferred to hear the whole show done with English accents. Secondly, the "radio" scenes use live microphones, which aren't necessary in a theater as intimate as the Adobe, and the occasional distortion they produced on the night I attended momentarily ruined the atmosphere. Better to just hear unamplified human voices whenever possible.
One other thing that has always bothered me about A Christmas Carol, which has nothing at all to do with this production, is why Scrooge is given the chance to redeem himself while still alive but Jacob Marley wasn't. Poor Marley, dragging his chains around for all eternity. Of course, maybe the point is that Marley's ghost and the three apparitions all appear only in Scrooge's imagination, so there is no more to the Marley story than that, But I wish Dickens had written a sequel about him, instead of the four other Christmas novellas he wrote in the 1840s after A Christmas Carol proved to be so popular. You might have heard of The Cricket on the Hearth, but how about The Chimes, The Battle of Life, or The Haunted Man? Wow, that guy was prolific.
Still, A Christmas Carol, despite its familiarity, never seems to grow tiresome, and it deserves to be seen or read every few years. I think you'll enjoy this version at the Adobe Theater (and, at least for me, it was a lot more fun than reading it).
Christmas Classics Radio Theater presents Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Adobe Theater in Albuquerque through December 16, 2012. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Info at adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222.