Magdalen Hartman, Kevin Michael Cushing, Kathy Todd Chaney & Larry Chaney. Photo – SCCT.

A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Michael Paller
From the story by Charles Dickens
Directed by Craig Nolan Highley

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

The Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol is undoubtedly the best-known holiday story in western culture, second only to the nativity itself. The various versions that will parade across our television screens before December 26 are too numerous to count, and everyone has their favorites. This puts pressure on a theatrical version to distinguish itself from the herd. Director Craig Nolan Highley here relies on an adaptation that positions the telling of the tale as a party entertainment offered by Charles Dickens himself.

The opening scenes introduce a reflective Dickens, seemingly in the process of composing his most famous story, before guests arrive eager for him to present one of his “theatricals.” He assigns the various roles, and the story of Ebenezer Scrooge properly begins.

The complex framing device certainly sets this production apart, but I also felt it had the effect of undercutting the impact of Scrooge’s redemption. Larry Chaney makes for a distinguished Dickens, but his professorial tone and innate dignity seem ill-suited for representing the greatest curmudgeon in literature. That we return to the Dickens party at the top of the second act further removes us from the narrative at a crucial time in Scrooge’s long, dark night of the soul. As many times as you might have experienced it, A Christmas Carol still retains its ability to move us. That’s why it never goes away. The hope of redemption runs deep in the Judeo-Christian culture, and Dickens’ text powerfully taps into it.

Which is not to say that the production is less than entertaining: an easygoing yuletide divertissement. The ensemble is engaging overall, with all of the cast essaying multiple roles. But special mention might be made of distinctive character work from Kathy Todd Chaney, Greg Collier, Kevin Michael Cushing, Corey Hall and Magdelen Hartman. Also, David Pilkinton left a memorable impression as Marley’s Ghost.

Opening night was plagued by small glitches with some missed light cues and a few out-of-place props, and some hesitation in line delivery in the longer speeches that suggests the production was just shy of being ready for an audience. It might be explained, in part, by the momentum lost in opening the day after Thanksgiving, since most opening nights do not follow an entire day off; so such issues might drop away like snowflakes as the run continues and the production finds its rhythm.

The set functioned well in the elongated space, although it was slight in period detail. The costumes were stronger, particularly in the realization of Marley and the Christmas spirits, and each apparition was introduced with suitably dramatic effect. Despite the technical glitches during the opening, the lighting and sound design served the story well and provided a few surprises.

This Carol develops charm and humor enough to please, just not enough heart to fully satisfy.

A Christmas Carol

Featuring Maguire Allen, Kathy Todd Chaney, Larry Chaney, Greg Collier, Kevin Michael Cushing, Karissa Kathryn, Corey Hall, Magdalen Hartman, James Ray Morgan, David Pilkinton, Jacob Stover, Jack Swindler, Jake Waford and Makenzie Wise

November 29 & 30, December 6 & 7, 2013, 7:30 pm
December 1 & 8, 2013, 2:30 pm

Shelby County Community Theatre
801 Main Street
Shelbyville KY 40065

Call (502) 633-0242 for reservations