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A cool carol: (l-r) Phil Sheehan and Meredith Bull in HMT’s A Christmas Carol.

Holiday Spirits
By Kathryn Ceceri

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Adapted and directed by Terry Rabine
Home Made Theater, Spa Little Theater

Home Made Theater’s recent production of A Christmas Carol kept the “wow” factor high in an old chestnut that can seem overdone even to kids.

Throughout the performance, my 8-year-old kept leaning over to whisper “Cool!” in my ear at each new special effect. This is a child who’s listened to the entire original Dickens story on tape, who’s seen several versions (including the Mister Magoo interpretation against which, in my humble opinon, all others must be judged), and for whom computer-generated images on screen are a constant topic of conversation. In other words, impressing this kid is no mean feat.

Despite the enormous cast (nearly 30 players, many with multiple parts), the show’s design itself was the star. Director Terry Rabine made the most out of a deceptively simple set consisting of just a few pieces of scenery on wheels, the London skyline and some fog. When the first of Scrooge’s ghostly tour guides arrives to transport him to scenes of Christmas past, his curtained bed is whisked in, around and through the whirling backdrops of counting house and classroom. The fact that we can see very clearly the cast members doing the spinning makes the effect no less magical.

Added to this is Rabine’s deft use of lighting, especially when Scrooge’s bed curtains are illuminated by the glow of the first ghost, and sound, including Marley’s chains, the spontaneous ringing of bells throughout the house and the echoes of Scrooge’s memories. Gorgeous costumes by Karen Mazurkiewicz completed the effect.

Rabine’s adaptation, pared down to a brisk hour, included a Dickens-like narrator and hit all the major notes. The director made some interesting choices, casting former Annie national touring company lead Meredith Bull as the Ghost of Christmas Past, which added another dimension of ambiguity to the figure Dickens described as both “like a child” yet “like an old man” viewed as if “from a distance.” Rabine himself played the green-robed Ghost of Christmas Present not like the “jolly Giant, glorious to see” but as a roaring specter with more menace than mirth. His belligerent performance almost overshadowed the final, Grim Reaper-like spirit who terrifies Scrooge with the picture of his death.

This Scrooge, played by Phil Sheehan, was not as well-drawn a character as in other Christmas Carols, but as with the rest of the cast he fit the part visually, at any rate, to a T. At times it seemed he was ad-libbing his lines, something that shouldn’t have been necessary given the richness of Dickens’ dialogue. The rest of the supporting players did a fine job. In fact, the crowd scenes were so lively that they occasionally drowned out the narrator’s lines.

Still, A Christmas Carol that manages to combine such an authentic Victorian look and modern-day energy is nothing to sneer at. A show that makes 8-year-old boys glad to be taken to the theater is a great gift indeed.

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