NORTH BEACH, Md. – When Charles Dickens first penned A Christmas Carol in 1843 in just six weeks, he could not have foreseen how much of a Christmas tradition his work would become as the years waxed on. His famous story has gone on to be synonymous with the Christmas season and has been adapted countless times for both the stage and film.
In mid-1843, Dickens’ publishers Chapman & Hall threatened to reduce his wages exponentially if sales of his other books continued to fall. In order to take care of his growing family, he set about crafting his holiday masterpiece by taking 15-20 mile walks around London while he brainstormed the details of the narrative.
His hard work paid off when he published the novella on December 19th of 1843 and it subsequently sold out by that Christmas Eve.
Dickens went on to perform public readings until the year of his death in 1870. In an effort to honor this fact, The Twin Beach Players’ (TBP) current production of the enduring tale includes Dickens himself as the narrator/orchestrator of the show.
The story of A Christmas Carol centers around an older man named Ebenezer Scrooge who is known for being a cold-hearted, money-driven businessman who screams things like “Bah! Humbug!” at children and festive community members. One Christmas Eve he is visited by three Christmas spirits while he slumbers who help him to realize the error of his selfish ways.
Terri McKinstry’s direction of this production leads to inventively meaningful results. McKinstry lost her sister to mental health struggles this past August, and as a result has chosen to dedicate this production to all who have mental health struggles, those that help them to heal, and those that seek to bring awareness to and destigmatize the subject. She believes that at the heart of A Christmas Carol lies the belief that everyone deserves a second chance to turn their life around.
Her direction brings the aforementioned element of Charles Dickens as the narrator of the story. This creative choice helps to bring a sense of gravity and authenticity to this show that I have never witnessed on the stage prior to this production. The audience gets to see the inner machinations of Dickens’ paternal care for all children and his investment in the story itself. This is further fleshed out through the character’s conducting of the group of children that work as costumed stagehands to magically move Scrooge’s bed around the stage during ethereally music-backed dream sequences.
McKinstry keeps the story moving at such an engaging pace that the first act flew by before I could even wonder when the break in the story between acts was going to occur. Likewise, the second act was able to maintain that same level of energy.
Rachel Cruz’s set design further conveys this dedication to including Dickens as part of the production by using titles of his most famous works as the steps leading up to the platform where he spends most of the show. The strategic use of moving set pieces helps to convey the changing of settings.
For the majority of the show, the enduring set piece that visually entices the audience is Dickens’ period-accurate, curtain-draped bed that fluidly moves about the stage on wheels. At the back of the stage sits a very realistically painted wooden set of doors that open effortlessly, as if controlled by magic each time the children come to whisk Scrooge to yet another memory.
The core of this show, as was the case with TBP’s prior Christmas production last year too, is the impressively talented troupe of children who happily decorate the story through their help with scene transitions, sparse use of festive singing throughout, and portraying the many characters required for the retelling of Scrooge’s past, present, and future. While I would love to list each of these kids by name, I fear that this review would become unbearably long if I did due to just how many children are involved this year. Suffice it to say, each and every one of these kids was a delight to watch as they performed their hearts out.
Two adult actors that gave notable performances were J.L. Zemarel as Ebenezer Scrooge and Harvey Williams as Bob Cratchit and Mr. Fezziwig. Zemarel perfectly embodies the old miser mentality, without turning Scrooge into the almost comical caricature that so many adaptations portray him as.
Everything from the genuine agitation at the beginning of the show to Scrooge’s happy jig that he does near the end of the show once he turns a corner tells a character story that is enveloping to witness in its totality. The actor’s facial expressions and bodily movements emanate with an electric animation at all times that is excitedly engaging.
Williams brings his A Game, as is always the case whenever he graces the stage. I saw him as The Creature in TBP’s production of Frankenstein last year where he did the same. As Cratchit, he conjures a paternal figure that somehow manages to embody everything that one hopes for in the ideal father. He exudes compassion, tenderness, and light-heartedness at every turn. When the narrative calls for it, he is even able to break down emotionally to heartbreaking ends that contain the capacity to elicit empathy from even the most miserly of us. His facial expression of utter shock near the end of the show has the audience erupting in merry laughter.
As it stands, TBP’s A Christmas Carol is the seldom Christmas production playing at the four main theatre companies in Southern Maryland this year and is one not to be missed for those who enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit.
It offers an original and dramatic take on the timeless tale that reminds us precisely what the season is all about – redemption and unconditionally loving everyone who is a part of our community.
The approximate run time is two hours with one brief intermission.
A Christmas Carol will be playing at the North Beach Boys & Girls Club located at 9021 Dayton Avenue North Beach, MD 20714 through December 18th, 2022. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website here.
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