Victorian England. A lone figure, muttering to himself, walks a dark London street on a cold night. The man is Charles Dickens and it is not the darkness he curses, it is the dark hearts of men.
He would write a political pamphlet, Dickens decided, deploring the working conditions in factories that quite often employed children. No, even better, a story about a similarly cruel man, a man who cared nothing about Christmas. A story, he told an editor, that would have 20,000 times the effect that a political pamphlet would have.
That story, of course, became A Christmas Carol, and the message about an old miser’s changed life has been part and parcel of the Christmas season ever since. It happens to be Triad Stage’s Artistic Director Preston Lane’s favorite story of all time, and it is his marvelous adaptation that is presented once again for the holiday.
Directed by Brian Conger, Lane’s adaptation has been called THE Christmas Carol because of its faithfulness to Dickens’s intention: to attract attention to the misery of poor children during the Industrial Revolution. It also brings into focus Dickens, the social activist.
Children are the main characters in this production. They are interwoven into every scene right from the beginning: street urchins, ragamuffins, children of the poor, even ghosts. They sing, dance, crawl, cavort, and perform their way into our hearts.
A Christmas Carol certainly owes much to the child actors of this production: The Feldmanns (Allyson, Amy Claire, and Issac) play the Cratchit children, ensemble singers, and Issac performs as the Ghost of Christmas Future. For veteran spectators, it is amazing to see how these three have grown over the past three years. Michael Whittington, also making a return, charms as the youngest Scrooge, a Cratchit brother, and ensemble member. Autumn Routt, Ayden Hochstein, and Malikh Emerson all make their Triad Stage debuts this season and add their own bright talents to the cast.
Scrooge is again the inimitable Gordon Joseph Weiss, and for this, we can give a hearty, “Huzzah,” as we watch Weiss transform into the many-faceted Ebenezer. If Weiss seems a predictable curmudgeon at first, wait for it . . . he turns his Scrooge into one you will never forget and to whom you will inevitably compare all others.
Cassandra Lowe Williams reprises her role as the beggar woman who gently guides the children of A Christmas Carol and its audience through the play. Her Jamaican accent can be as mesmerizing as a lullaby or as thunderous as a cannon, depending on the scene. Here is a narrator who makes you forget there’s a narrator.
Junious Leak (Jacob Marley), Rosie McGuire (Ghost of Christmas Present), and Tara Whitney Rison (Ghost of Christmas Past) make us shiver, giggle and sigh, respectively, with their antics. Leak and McGuire, both audience favorites for the last two years, make a welcomed comeback, and Rison, a UNCG MFA acting student in her Triad Stage debut, is a graceful specter indeed.
Josh Foldy as Bob Cratchit, Michael Tourek as Mr. Fezziwig, Eliza Gilbert as Mrs. Cratchit, and Adam Kampouris as Fred round out the cast with help from Benjamin Apple, Samantha Leary and Alan Miller. They perform delightfully not only their characters’ roles, but the period songs, games and dances that Lane has woven into the script. It’s another device that Lane uses to pull the audience into Dickens’s world.
Nicholas Hussong, projection designer and Yale School of Drama MFA student, gives this performance much of its wow factor. There’s snow, rain, clips from old cinema, and enormous chains and timepieces, not to mention the shadowy shades of browns and grays that set the tone for our tale. All of this works nicely with sound designer David Smith’s amazing effects that send chills down your spine. The lighting (by John Wolf), projection, and sound are a show of themselves, like nothing you will see this side of Broadway.
Award-winning costume designer Kelsey Hunt, who has delighted audiences with her fashions in no less than 35 Triad Stage productions, is back, having been on hiatus from her MFA studies at the University of Maryland.
Triad Stage’s A Christmas Carol is something for which Greensboro should be proud. It has taken its place among the city’s most beloved traditions. Any reviewer knows that the most authentic reactions are those of the people who sit around her, and this day, as people stood to leave, a woman behind me exclaimed, wide-eyed, and obviously stirred, “That is the best production I ever saw, and I’ve seen it in Dallas and Houston . . . It was fabulous!”