It would be unfair and undeserved to call the Monroe County Civic Theater’s boisterous, one-act adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” amateurish. It’s unfair because of the scant attention, publicity and money that is usually the plight of community theater, and undeserved because these actors are as committed to their artistic progress and achievement as those strutting the halls of IU’s Lee Norvelle Theater & Drama Center.
Dialogue from local playwright Russell McGee’s adaptation, which opened Monday at Rhino’s, is well articulated by the famous curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, played by IU alumna Hannah Moss. At the beginning, the audience witnesses Scrooge snorting and scowling as she sweeps their feet with her broom, and the classic refrain “Bah! Humbug!,” which she snarls throughout, is given proper ferocity. Considering the level of focus on the character, the fact that Scrooge is played by a young woman is negligible.
Her costume changes go relatively unnoticed as a fluid ensemble of ghostly reindeer elves, played by Meggie Bontrager, Hayleigh Connor, IU freshman Kaylee Spivey and Paige Talbert, surround her at scene transitions and give the audience the signal they are now looking inside Scrooge’s mind.
The energy and timing so crucial to comedic action are demonstrated by IU sophomore Bradley Good in the roles of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. His cheerfulness and utter lack of melancholic moments highlight his dramatic function as a reminder to all, particularly Scrooge, of the need to wish everyone on Earth, no matter their situations, a “Merry Christmas!” Unsurprisingly, this well-wishing does not sit well with Scrooge at first. Even after his many rebukes and grimaces, the gleeful, high-pitched voice cannot contain these words, even in his presence.
IU sophomore Kerchanin Allen, playing Mrs. Cratchit and Martha, inflects both roles with tongue-in-cheek subtlety and a clear sense of on-stage professionalism. Her voice, with its distinctive rises and falls, is never excessive or overly mannered, and never fills more of the performance space than necessary.
Considering the scant funds, the costumes are quite elaborate. The ghost of Jacob Marley, played by Madeline Krause, who also plays a Christmas Angel, is resplendent in red-and-white sheets with a lampshade hat with similarly-colored ornaments hanging at its edges and shielding the face from Scrooge’s anxious gaze. He speaks in low, laborious tones mocking earlier film and stage depictions of the character. Nurses Belle, Fred and Fezziwig, played by IU senior Lauren Robison, sophomore Erika Heidewald and Charlotte Fitzek, wear lab coats while a hospital robe is placed on Scrooge. This offers a clear contrast between the characters and their state of mind, as well as a clue to Scrooge’s fate at the play’s climax when he is dragged offstage to a mental ward.
That said, this production of “A Christmas Carol” warrants some critiques. While the thematic underpinnings of Scrooge’s story (redemption, revelations about the fragile and finite in life) are both thorough and refreshingly funny, the focus on holiday cheer suffers.
Giddy musical sequences, from Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t) Fear the Reaper” to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” interrupt the course of the story, as well as the character development. Almost every song represents a stage in Scrooge’s psychological descent, and though this is a clever narrative device, it falls short of providing any recognizable Christmas or holiday nostalgia.
The spirit of pushing every actor’s limits, taking risks with the original material and enlivening the audience with an unexpected twist should never be discouraged. Creativity is by no means lacking in these students of various ages, backgrounds and talents. Their ambitions and intentions of revamping a 164-year-old story are certainly justified. But those intentions did not always produce results striking the audience in the same way, or to the same extent, as those onstage.
The civic theater’s “A Christmas Carol” will show at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8, and at 3 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Cinemat,123 S. Walnut St. All performances are free, but donations are appreciated.
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