Regional Reviews: New Jersey
A Christmas Carol in Dickens' Own Words
Neil Bartlett's singular achievement, from which the distinguishing virtues of his adaptation flow, is that he has relied entirely upon the words employed in Dickens' original novel in fashioning his most stage worthy, theatrically compelling play. The result is a brisk, clear and unfussy Carol that is faithful to its source and likely to win over those constitutionally resistant to its inherent sentiment.
As in all stage versions of Carol the ecumenically admirable Christmas spirit of "Peace on Earth" and "goodwill to men" is central. Additionally, this adaptation includes the less often heard, Christian-specific hope of Tiny Tim that people see him in church, because he is a cripple, and "it might be pleasant for them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."
Bonnie J. Monte's uncluttered direction and Adam Miecielica's airy and fluid, evocative scenic design are perfect matches for the text. Employing a bridge across the rear of the stage, the production evokes the bleak industrial feel of Victorian London while eschewing heavy scenic elements. Hugh Hanson's costumes are richly detailed and eminently playable. The design of the costume for the Ghost of Christmas Future combines with the astute lighting of Michael Giannitti to create a deeply three-dimensional, free flowing image which has more visual impact than can be achieved by 3-D film projection (without the need to wear colored glasses). Additionally, Giannitti's stunning reddish-gold lighting bathes the Fezziwig Christmas party in a glow that gives the scene a large celebratory party feel which had not seemed possible in a production of this scale.
Eleven actors perform more than fifty roles, seeming to effortlessly change their costumes and aspect in the flash of an eye. Philip Goodwin, who "only" plays Ebenezer Scrooge, takes advantage of the gravity of Bartlett's adaptation to draw an unusually dimensional, realistic Scrooge. Given a good argument for Scrooge's behavior, Goodwin is likely to have you nodding your head in agreement ("Keep Christmas in your way. And let me keep it in mine"). The entire robust ensemble is fully engaged and integrated into every aspect of the production, slipping in and out of a multiplicity of roles while maintaining a high degree of verisimilitude.
Although there is little of the spirit of the English pantomime about Bartlett's adaptation, a cappella singing of traditional English Christmas carols during appropriate moments provides bright aural entertainment. There are also enlivening directorial touches, which may or may not appear in the script, in that actors play and/or vocalize wind and snow, clocks and watches, and Christmas bells. I was puzzled by the appearance of an incandescent electric bulb as Dickens' novella was published in 1843.
Neil Bartlett's adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol is literary, adult, family appropriate theatre. It avoids easy sentimentality, yet is involving and moving. It remains an inspirational Christmas story in which love, compassion, faith, and the bonds of family triumph. And, it will be available for holiday entertainment through the Christmas/ New Year school recess.
A Christmas Carol continues performances (Eveings: Tuesday/Wednesday/Sunday 7:30 pm / Thursday/Friday/Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees Saturday and Sunday 2 pm; Added Matinees: 12/23; 12/29; 12/30- 2 pm / No Performance 12/24; 12/25; or 12/31 Evening) through January 1, 2012, at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue at Lancaster Road, Madison, New Jersey 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
A Christmas Carol adapted by Neil Bartlett from the novel by Charles Dickens, directed by Bonnie J. Monte