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The gift of 'A Christmas Carol'

Posted: December 8, 2011 - 12:01am

Perseverance Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a gift you must give yourself this holiday season. It’s like the present under the tree you recognize because it is what you asked for, only when you open it, what’s inside is better than you imagined. The wrapping is not special — Perseverance is a tiny barebones theater space with an odd-shaped acting area and seats with no allowance for elbows or legs. However, there is a bow on this box; it is white and curled a bit at the ends, just like Scrooge’s hair. The adaptation written by Gerard Stropnicky focuses on Ebenezer Scrooge, magnificently presented by Dick Reichman, an actor from Anchorage. He plays Scrooge as a misunderstood man with high regards for his wealth and none for the less fortunate. In most portrayals of Dickens’ story Scrooge is a ranting, raving miser, easy to dislike. Carefully directed by Ryan Conarro, Reichman’s Scrooge is a man we meet in three dimensions, a cranky but principled gentleman who doesn’t know how to change. The famous “Bah! Humbug!” utterances are pronounced softly, seemingly out of frustration, not as taunts launched toward those who bravely attempt to tap into his humanity. We witness the dilemma of a man trapped by his own success, a wounded man with walls around him to prevent further pain. As the character observes visions of his past, present, and future, we witness the stages of transformation of Scrooge. The giddy, giggling man in the end is predictable, yet believable, a new version of Scrooge 99 percent of us recognizes and 1 percent truly knows.

From the beginning to the end, a community of players offers up the words of the Dickens’ story, sometimes in unison. Victorian London comes to life, like a snow-globe with living players inside. Perseverance’s stage is filled with children who remain focused and play their parts with commitment. Adults and youth play multiple parts and each role is played distinctly, which adds to the visual and vocal layers of the show. Cast members expertly and smoothly move scenery, creatively add sound effects, dance, and sing traditional carols in perfect harmony. The production has an excellent tempo, a challenge with a large cast, many entrances and exits, and special effects that must be timed perfectly — fog, chimes, edible food, hand-carried stage lights. The artistic and technical staff may proudly proclaim this is an ensemble with strong and talented actors in lead roles.

The unit set, a wooden two-story representation of angles borrowed from a factory front, becomes all of the places Dickens takes us in his story. When we move out to sea, blue light and waves appear; signs change and we are back in the city; a rolling unit moves out to become a bench in the parlor at Fezziwig’s manor or the seat at the Cratchit family’s dinner table. Sometimes, scenic changes seem unnecessary and distracting, especially the shift of the second-floor images of London skyline to factory gears.

Costumes simply done align with the drab industrial setting of Dickens, although a garment here or there seemed borrowed from a different time. The echo effect used for voices of the ghosts added an effective other-worldliness. Other sounds set the mood or added tension. Especially delightful were music and sounds from the hurdy-gurdy and the harpsichord.

Tiny Tim, played by Forrest Gray Davis, is tiny; Martha Cratchit played by Megan Wright is late for dinner on Christmas day, exactly as she is in the story; the Christmas pudding has a sprig of holly stuck into the top, not blazing in ignited brandy, but that’s a minor detail. There is plenty of glow and warmth in this production. All the important parts of Dickens’ story are here: the knocker on the door, Marley’s ghost, the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

We all know how the story ends: Scrooge learns how to keep Christmas well. Join your neighbors and friends. Go see Perseverance’s production of A Christmas Carol. It is an excellent way to add merriment to your holiday.

Shows continue through Dec. 24.

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