A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Eric Hill. Directed by Eric Hill and E. Gray Simons III.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...decrease the surplus population."
Eric Hill as Scrooge (2007 production); photo by Ryan Chittaphong
For the third season in a row the Berkshire Theatre Festival is presenting their stage edition of the Victorian classic, "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. In this adaptation by Eric Hill the story is told in a most straight-forward manner with special effects reduced to an aural minimum, with traditional sets and costumes and a triple-threat endeavor by Eric Hill who adapted the book into a play, directed the show and stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, the classic meanie who hates Christmas. Hill has grown with the role. Last season he smiled incessantly, making the nastiest of classic lines, even "Bah, Humbug!" into a lightly comic turn.
This season, however, he has given Scrooge his due and presented him as a small-minded, stingy, hard-as-brass miser who wishes to be left alone. His wish, if you know the tale at all, is not granted. His two confrontations with the ghost of his ex-partner, Jacob Marley, leave him without much solid ground on which to stand and set him on the path of self-discovery that illuminates his true, and long-hidden, nature. If Hill is still making the transition to "nice-guy" a bit early in the game he is at least making it rather than showing us Scrooge’s inner man from the beginning and this is a very good thing for the play. His performance has moments that touch the heart gently and he produces a new and improved Ebenezer at the end of the show whose humorous, rollicking sensibilities are truly enjoyable.
Jacob Marley is played with a superb intensity by E. Gray Simons III. His caterwaul of agony and remorse is chilling and his intensity tips the hat of command to Hill’s Scrooge. Simons returns late in the play as Joe, the man who purchases the items stolen from the dead Scrooge. He plays this role with finesse and has a high old time chuckling, cajoling and flirting with his coven of thieves. Two delightful personalities presented by an excellent young master of characters.
The show, this time around, is presented as part of the BTF’s Education and Outreach Program and the balance of the company are not professional actors. In fact, not even Hill and Simons are credited in the program as professionals. The young company is, on balance, generally delightful. Andrew Belcher does a nice job with Bob Crachit [mis-spelled this way in the BTF program], moving his audience to tears in the second act mourning his lost child. Joseph Labrasca is a terrific Turkey Boy in the final scene of the play. Miranda Shea makes the most of Fan, and Abigail Ziaja is a charming and poignant Mrs. Crachit. Marco Crescentini is a perfect Ignorance and fun to watch early in the show - he has memorized entire scenes and mouths the lines along with the actors on stage.
Cameron Castanguay is an exuberant Tiny Tim, Michael Brahce an equally exuberant Fred and James Russell a very happy Dick Wilkins. The three ghosts did their very different jobs very well with Brandy Caldwell especially fine as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Rob McFadyen paraded nicely as Christmas Present and Rachael Plaine overwhelmed as Christmas Yet to Come.
Ralph Petillo as Charles Dickens and Mr. Fezziwig was an excellent presence, even if his accent seemed off-base among the Stage-British of the rest of the company. He narrates well and his voice carries over the too-loud music and Fezziwig had an energy and enthusiasm that made it just fine.
A special bravo to Natalie Paterson for her musicianship, playing her violin to inspire London's street people and party-goers and carolers.
Carl Sprague’s forced perspective set and moving stage pieces work like a charm and are so very impressive in a production that spares little in enthusiasm but holds to a nice, neat budget in actual production costs. Aided wonderfully by Jessica Risser-Milne’s wonderful costumes, the company’s wonderful collection of props and the moody and mystical lighting of Matthew E. Adelson, this one hour and thirty-eight minute (with intermission) production is a nice annual treat for young and old alike.
Members of the 2007 company
A Christmas Carol plays through December 30 at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, MA. Tickets range from $20-$45 and can be purchased by calling 413-298-5536, ext. 33 or online at www.berkshiretheatre.org.