A Christmas Carol
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
December 25, 2009
This holiday classic is one of my personal favorites, from Dickens novella to the 1951 Alastair Sim film to the 1970 Albert Finney musical. I even like the animated Mr. Magoo version. I'm happy to say that parts of all these Christmas Carols, presented in a very broad children's theatre format, are found within the 13th Street Repertory Company's current production.
The story is told in a straightforward yet simplified way, with traditional Christmas carols and a couple of period dances sprinkled throughout. Along the way, some of the characters interact with the audience, to mixed effect. The very quiet Christmas Past encouraged the entire audience to help her be sufficiently scary, asking us to give a collective "boo" to Scrooge, while Christmas Present's style was to harass us, sneaking up behind and jumping out at one audience member, then sneering "I'm not gonna even bother with you" to me as he rolled up the aisle. Of course my 10-year-old son found this hilarious, me not so much. Even if the intention is playful, insulting the audience is never a good idea.
As presented, the play is very inconsistent in style and production elements. The actors use a variety of accents, none of them 1840s London. While most adopt neutral or New York-tinged accents, one scene features a pair of almost vaudevillian cockneys who seem to be in another play from the rest of the naturalistic performances.
The production elements are haphazard. It looks like help is needed with sets and costumes and their construction and upkeep. Mr. Fezziwig wore what looked like clown pants. Belle wore a cap-sleeved summer blouse while everyone else was in winter garb. Scrooge's grave is mismarked and decorated with day glo paints; it seems out of place.
Children's theatre is no different from any other kind: the actors need to believe what they're saying, what they're experiencing, and find the truth and reality of that. When they can't, that disconnection is extremely distracting. Still, the company has a good heart, and the production is sweet. My son found Christmas Future "absolutely terrifying" as well as some faceless ghosts who accompany Jacob Marley in accosting an unflappable Scrooge.
The best thing about this show, it led to a great discussion about the important themes of A Christmas Carol, and a fervent desire to re-rent the classic film versions, and to reread the novella. In that way, it was perfect.