A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Barbara Field from Charles Dickens

Directed by Drew Fracher

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2011 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

If it is December, then it is time once again for A Christmas Carol at Actors Theatre. The familiar production, given a new staging every few years, remains a popular seasonal tradition for Louisvillians and for a very good reason – it remains the GREAT Christmas story of modern society.

Of course, Actors Theatre can be relied upon to provide a quality rendition, and this is no exception. This particular iteration has been in place for a few years, and little has changed since I saw it two years ago. But it is a sturdy adaptation that works the venerable story in a mostly traditional manner, with marvelous effects and stagecraft that remind us that Marley’s Ghost, along with the Christmas Spirits of Past and Present, are usually the best part of the story. Marley is here portrayed as a quite forceful presence, in spite of being seven years deceased, by Larry Bull. This talented actor, who was so memorable in a previous ATL turn in The Mystery of Irma Vep, shook the clichéd cobwebs of the character, towering over Ebenezer Scrooge as he frightens the old curmudgeon into obedience to the visits of three spirits.

In a delightful departure from the traditional trappings of the production as a whole, the Spirit of Christmas Past is given an unexpectedly elegant and acrobatic presentation by Lauren Hirte. Gracefully descending from above on two lengths of white silk that extend to the stage, she performs much of her role while executing an aerial ballet, moving up and down the fabric as she introduces herself to Scrooge and begins his dark journey of the soul. Clad in shimmering, body-hugging fabric, Ms. Hirte brought an idiosyncratically erotic charge to the proceedings that might have seemed out of place were it not leavened with abundant charm, innocence and energy.

Woe to the actor who must follow her as Christmas Present, but Tyrone Mitchell Henderson does captivating work while still existing within the familiar trappings of the role. Along with V. Craig Heidenreich’s jovial narrator and William McNulty’s venerable turn as Scrooge, these were the highlights of this year’s production. And if it might seem a challenge to comment on Mr. McNulty’s well-worn performance, I laughed anew this year at the mischievous glee his Scrooge took in confounding the expectations of those around him during his Christmas morning reawakening.

As to why Dickens’ tale still holds us in thrall? Perhaps because it is about conflict within the human heart first, Christmas second – and only uses the occasion as a device with which to explore the dark, bitter side of human experience. Although filled with festive scenes and holiday music, the overtly religious aspects of Christmas take a back seat. When Ebenezer finally awakens to the virtues of kindness and generosity, the power of the moment comes from our knowledge of how deeply he journeyed into genuine terror in order to rediscover his humanity, lending a profound universality to the narrative.

A Christmas Carol

December 6-December 23, 2011  

Actors Theatre of Louisville
Pamela Brown Auditorium
Third & Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202