‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think I‚Äôm ready for Christmas,‚Äù I grumbled to my friend as I heard the first strains of Christmas carols in the ACT lobby on Sunday. With this Scrooge-like sentiment, I stepped into the Allen Theatre to see A Christmas Carol. However, I was soon immersed in the familiar holiday story and found myself meditating on Dickens‚Äô timeless questions about friends and family, poverty and wealth, and who we choose to be in this world. Behind me, a young girl with a sweet voice sang along with every carol. It turns out I might be ready for Christmas, after all.
The production, directed by Alison Narver, runs at only 90 minutes (which still may have been too long for a couple of the children in the audience). Aided by Greg Falls‚Äô elegant script, the pace was brisk, transitions fluid, and there were moments of magic that had even the most cynical audience member smiling. As the play was staged in the round, it was a challenge for Narver and her team to find ways to stage these magical moments in such close proximity to the audience. The full theatre was used as a stage to bring the audience into the action. As the spill lighting included many audience members, watching children watching the show was part of the delight. The dynamic staging and a deft use of technology transported the audience through Scrooge‚Äôs past present and future.
However, they weren‚Äôt always successful. There were some sightline issues when actors were in the aisles, especially in large groups. The Ghost of Christmas Future, always the hardest ghost to portray, was impressive in its first appearance, but as soon as it moved out of the initial dramatic lighting cue, the illusion was gone. That said the appearance of the other two ghosts were both fun enough to make up for it. (I won‚Äôt spoil the surprise.)
There are two men playing Scrooge this year in alternating performances. I saw ACT Scrooge veteran Jeff Steitzer in the role and he was quite delightful. His transformation was beautiful to watch from the beginning of the play, where he was quite frightening, to the moment where he describes himself as feeling ‚Äúlight as an angel.‚Äù I was also impressed with the quality of the child actors. They were all engaging, dynamic performers who were able to vocally fill that large space.
Burton Curtis was a little over the top as the ghost of Marley, convulsing in a wild gyration of (what I suppose was) the torments of hell. There were more than a couple of small laughs during his performance, but he got enthusiastic applause as he made his final descent into the hellfires. Then, a few scenes later, Burton had the cameo of a lifetime as the Bread Lady and was a huge cross-dressing hit.
Sylvie Davidson was enchanting as the Ghost of Christmas Past. In an outfit that I now want for Christmas, she seemed to float around the stage, taking Scrooge (and all of us) with her. Despite his lanky form, I liked Timothy McCuen Piggee‚Äôs performance of the Ghost of Christmas Present (I generally think of this character as physically larger than life). However, Piggee has a gorgeous voice, which sonically made up for his lack of bulk.
Throughout the cast, the accents were uneven. Some of the actors‚Äô English accents slipped into Australian, others into Irish. I was bothered by it once or twice, but then a magical sprinkling of glitter would fall from the sky, or the prize turkey was ordered for Tiny Tim, and I didn‚Äôt care anymore.
So, if you are feeling like you need an injection of Christmas spirit, or you just want to have a lovely, heartwarming theatrical experience, head down to ACT for their charming A Christmas Carol. It‚Äôs a cure for the winter-time Scrooge.