This Christmas season, as in all others since its 1843 publication, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is in vogue. What makes this season perhaps a little different is that many versions seem to recast into more recent times and alternate locations Dickens’ novella of ghosts who transform the live of one Ebenezer Scrooge, that “squeezing,wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” of the Victorian writer’s fiery and hyperbolic imagination.
While this production is very traditional, it is nonetheless capable of an agreeable surprise or two.
The Providence Players in Falls Church, for example, set the story in a spontaneous Depression-eraproduction which occurs in 1933 St. Louis. Travelling roughly 100 miles south to the Swift Creek Mill Theatre in Colonial Heights, one encounters the intriguing production of “A 1940’s Radio Christmas Carol,” in which Dickens’ melodrama is played out in a live radio dramatization in a charmingly dysfunctional 1940’s radio studio. Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in itscurrent production keeps “A Christmas Carol” in its Victorian milieu, yet shifts the action to the city of – appropriately enough for the theatre! – Baltimore.
“A Christmas Carol” at the Little Theatre of Alexandria distinguishes its production, directed by Shelagh Roberts, by bucking this era and place-altering trend completely. Here the audience is treated to a very traditional and classic “Christmas Carol,” with consistent costuming suggestive of the 1800’s, even down to carols which would have been popular at the time. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Joy to the World” are heard, but the cast also sings carols which we here less frequently today, such as “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (the latter not sung, but played in the background).
Every effort is made to preserve the London setting through British accents reflecting various classes of society. The one inconsistency is when we espy a very young Scrooge with ginger-colored hair with fair features and then as a dark-haired young man in Fezziwig’s firm. We take this to be evidence of the troupe’s reasonable expectation that the audience is already familiar with the story from top to finish. Likewise, Tiny Tim says “God bless us, every one” but once, and that at the end, so as to avoid overuse of one of the story’s tropes.
Actor Brian Lyons-Burke, with his barking “Bah, humbug!,” makes a wonderful Scrooge – especially when he scares a timid little one who wanders innocently into Scrooge and Marley’s accounting house to sing the old misanthrope a Christmas Carol. While this production is very traditional, it is nonetheless capable of an agreeable surprise or two. The Ghost of Christmas Pastis presented in uncertain terms in the novella, and thus in various versions this specter is represented as a young girl or an old man. Here the figure is represented by Taegan Chirinos, who enters and disappears waving awand and a with Disney-like musical leitmotif, suggesting a fairy godmother from, say, Cinderella. The effects are fine and indeed effective, as the fearsome Phantom of the future at the end gestures dramatically to a tombstonewith Ebenezer Scrooge’s name glowing hellish red.
The stage is very evocative, and one of the surprises or unique touches aforementioned is seen: an enormous timepiece tilted at an angle provides the main staging for thistale of time and the use of it – of past regrets, present memories, and future action and change. Yet the inner workings of this colossal timepiece show as cogs and machinery indicative of the industrial revolution,whose workings Dickens is criticizing in the work,. None of this takes away from the charming Christmas spirit of the production, as snow drifts down gently overall at the end, and not a few audience members join in the caroling of the characters on stage.
In the final analysis, and getting fully into the spirit of Dickens by borrowing and adapting here a bit from his self-styled “Ghost Story of Christmas,” in this production of “A Christmas Carol,” the Little Theatre of Alexandria “knows how to keep the Christmas spirit well. May that be truly said of all of us!”
Running Time: One hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.
“A Christmas Carol” plays through December 16, 2018, at The Little Theatre of Alexandria located – 600 Wolfe Street in Alexandria, Virginia. Purchase tickets at the door or online.