Chicago Theatre Review
One Dickens of a Show
A Christmas Carol
Whoever would’ve thought that a novella published back in 1843 London would not only become the most-told Christmas story of all time; it would even rival the story of the first Christmas in familiarity. There have been, and will no doubt continue to be, more versions and adaptations of Dickens’ story of Scrooge’s redemption than anyone can count. M.E.H. Lewis’ new adaptation is good, but director Shifra Werch’s production could use some tweaking.
Matthew Hallstein makes a good Scrooge, possessing a rich, commanding baritone that can level the youngest carolers or drive away even the most benevolent charity collectors. He fully understands the nature of the old miser and the dialogue Lewis has given him. The problem stems from his pacing. Scrooge has to be the driving force of this play and Hallstein simply takes too many moments of “reflection” to keep the story moving. At times Hallstein seems as if he’s stalling until he can recall his next line; but in retrospect, it’s more likely a directing choice. As a result, the rhythm becomes slow or staccato. When Mr. Hallstein is on a roll his Scrooge is a real fireball, but every time he stops to ponder the situation the play’s momentum comes to a halt.
Other cast members who bring strength and versatility to their roles include Dan Deuel, particularly as the Ghost of Marley, but also as a charming, jolly Fezziwig. Barbara Anderson, with one one of the most authentic British accents in the cast, is delightfully captivating as Mrs. Fezziwig, among other roles. Nick Bonges does a terrific job as Dick Wilkins, Scrooge’s fellow apprentice, and lovely Dana Pepowski is excellent as Fan, Jane and the Debtor’s Daughter. Would that talented Chicagoland actor Edward Kuffert, so excellent in Citadel’s “Other People’s Money,” had a larger role in this production. Instead his brilliance is limited to such cameo parts as the Poultry Vendor, Scrooge’s Schoolmaster and the Undertaker’s Man. Capable performances by Clare Cooney as both the Ghost of Christmas Past and Yet-to-Come, John Ham as Scrooge’s nephew Fred and Kelly Farmer as Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Cratchit also stand out.
One of the stranger elements added to this production is the group of little girls continually brought onto the stage like whimsical spirits. Often their function is restoring props to the stage, but not always. At one point they seem to be the minions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, rather like Titania and her fairy entourage. However, they often pop onto the stage for no real reason. Dressed in bright gold metallic fabric, all eyes are drawn to them. Perhaps this is the director’s way of just giving some additional stage time to the many children in this production. Another odd directorial choice is having the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ross Frawley) unnecessarily and sadistically whipping poor Ebenezer all over the stage. However, one of the nicer additions to this production was having a heavy chain wrapped around Scrooge by a team of black-cowled spirits. Also, Designer Bob Boxer has created a perfect canvas of sound that adds so much to this play. A cacophony of bells, a deafening clanking of chains and much more provide an sensual aural background for this dark holiday story. And Jason Lee Resler has made the most of his resources in creating a wide range of Victorian costumes for this large cast.
It’s always a welcome opportunity to yearly revisit Dickens‘ holiday classic. Finding a well-written adaptation, expertly-cast and produced playing in the far northern suburbs is an additional treat. With tighter direction and a resistance to stray from the original story, this version could easily become an annual holiday event for the North Shore.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Nov. 29-Dec. 29 by Citadel Theatre Company, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 847-735-8554 or by visiting their website, www.CitadelTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.