Charles Dickens’ 1843 “Ghost Story of Christmas” has proven itself time and again to be the perfect canon fodder for adaptation to the stage and screen. The story is timeless; full of ambition, loss, resentment, and eventual redemption. Staging it, and taking the family to see it staged, are entrenched in many of our contemporary holiday traditions. For some audiences, “Carol” marks the one time per year when they attend a play – and they return again and again.
Like all of CSC’s offerings, the production elements here are first rate.
Unlike the works of the ancient Greeks or Shakespeare, “A Christmas Carol” was originally a novella, of course. So, every theatrical version is somebody’s adaptation. Companies that produce the show regularly often develop their own scripts, while there is a wide variety of popular options available off-the-shelf. Treatments of the story vary so greatly that, among the many updated, Americanized versions (a fine example is Arena Players’ “Christmas is Comin’ Uptown” appearing now. read the review) there are even parodies, like the hilarious backstage comedy “Inspecting Carol” by Daniel Sullivan. A good rule of thumb when measuring these is to look at the title: the closer a playwright’s wording to the original title, the less license they are likely to have taken.
For Chesapeake Shakespeare, Artistic Director Ian Gallanar has penned “A Christmas Carol – with a Baltimore Twist”. The location is changed but the period remains Victorian (or, since we’ve moved here to the States should we change the reference to President Tyler?). The current production is Chesapeake’s sixth annual rendition, with company member Gregory Burgess returning in the role of Scrooge. Burgess is a maniacal force on stage, both as the bitter and hateful Scrooge 1.0 and as the childlike and gleeful morning-after Scrooge. The energy of his performance propels the action ever forward, and he benefits from consistent excellence among his cast-mates as well as punchy direction by Scott Alan Small that sticks every single landing.
As the ghost of Jacob Marley, Lance Bankerd is wonderfully anguished and desperate to save his partner. Bethany Mayo guides Scrooge through Christmases past, followed by ghosts Gregory Michael Atkin and Michael Toperzer. All three navigate their charge’s emotional journey convincingly and with grace. Several standout performances among the large cast include Zipporah Brown’s as young Scrooge’s fiancée and Steve Torres as Bob Cratchit. The entire ensemble of fifteen grownups and perhaps as many child actors are on point throughout, doing the difficult job of making a story richly compelling when the audience already knows the plot.
Like all of CSC’s offerings, the production elements here are first rate. The period lends itself to some wonderful costume detail, though it’s with the ghosts where designer Kristina Lambdin delivers truly amazing work. Both set and lighting are by Daniel O’Brien, and they’re highly effective. Sound is by the playwright.
Running Time: 120 minutes with one intermission.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 24 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street in Baltimore. For tickets call (410) 244-8570 or click here.