By Dale King
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the author’s famous tale of a wretched skinflint who finds lifesaving redemption with help from some ghostly apparitions who mess with him on a fateful Christmas Eve in mid-19th century London, is back in Palm Beach County for a run at the Sol Theatre in Boca Raton.
Director Christopher Mitchell has assembled a delightful cast of adults and young people for the seasonal chestnut — here titled The Christmas Carol — about penny-pinching miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the awakening of his long-forgotten festive spirit. Every player gives his or her all to make the drama work. Many even take on multiple roles to get the job done.
Jim Gibbons, a seasoned actor with wonderful stage presence and bountiful charisma, even in his nastiness, is top-notch as Ebenezer Scrooge — a character that’s so well-known, even his surname is synonymous with stinginess. With 39 years of stage experience, Gibbons has already taken to the stage in the Scrooge role, and fleshed out the character of Merlin in Excalibur, among others.
Brian Way has given just a slight tweak to the author’s 1843 novel-turned-play-turned-film, adding more interaction from the children via song and story, ramping up the entertainment factor and making the reformative adventure more family-oriented. In the process, he retains virtually all of Dickens’ vivid prose.
While Sol Theatre operates in lean surroundings, the set is well-crafted and certainly adequate. The ghosts’ entrances and exits are well-adapted to a practically technology-free environment. The production flows smoothly, even in this restrictive space.
Way’s adaptation of Dickens’ story tones down some potentially scary aspects. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Constance Moreau) presents herself angelically, with a ceramic-white visage, lavender hair and flowing, gray-white skirt. The next spiritual visitor, Christmas Present (Jenna Wyatt), is garbed in traditional green and red.
The Ghost of Christmas Future is a tall and thin figure in black robe and hood who is not even identified in the program. He doesn’t speak, but leads a frightened Scrooge around uncertain terrain by pointing the way with a gnarled, death-white finger.
The cast does well to create the “feel” of Scrooge’s office, a chilly enclosure as cold as the old man’s miserly heart. Cratchit (excellently portrayed by Seth Trucks) begs to add a piece of coal to the fire, but Scrooge snarls “No.”
Thankfully, Dickens’ original lines come through, underscoring Scrooge’s harsh demeanor as well as the horrid living conditions on the streets of London in the early 1840s. He berates the needy, saying they should be in debtor’s prison. The sick “should die, and reduce the surplus population.” He constantly humbugs Christmas, calling it “a time to find yourself a year older and not an hour richer.”
Perhaps the most shocking ghostly visitor is Scrooge’s former partner, Jacob Marley (Murphy Hayes), “dead seven years this very night.” With long white beard, and bound by heavy chains, he comes across as something of an anti-Santa. He warns Ebenezer to heed the message of the ghostly trio to come.
Way’s adaptation takes Scrooge and the audience through the stingy man’s early years, showing how this lonely boy became a jaded man, seeking only money and scorning friends, relations — like his sister, Fan (Sara Grant) and her son, Fred (Jeremy Wershoven); a potential wife, Belle (Amy Coker) and festive employer, Fezziwig (Barry Katz) and his wife, Mrs. Fezziwig (Fern Katz). The story says these folks really knew how to party — a capability Scrooge has lost somewhere in his deep past.
John Maher shows us the miser’s early demeanor, portraying Young Scrooge with a serious scowl and head focused only on shillings and crowns.
While the content of the story is pretty much old news, the presentation is sparkling. The acting is sharp, even among the youngsters. As Scrooge, Gibbons sets a high bar, but his stage colleagues ably reach it.
Hayes is particularly apt as Marley, the often-forgotten ghost. Barry Katz is certainly good at making merry as Mr. Fezziwig, and cute, blonde-haired, 8-year-old Eden Wexler gets to play Tiny Tim and speaks the most famous line from the play, “God bless us, every one.” She’s also on stage as a singing party dancer and as Little Scrooge.
Neil Evangelista takes on five roles with ease, and does a wonderful job playing the recorder for the dancers. Everyone who toils in the near-final scene when Scrooge’s belongings are divided up among the street scavengers adds a touch of humor to a show that’s often grim.
The Christmas Carol is being presented through Dec. 18 at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.. For tickets, visit www.solchildren.org or call 561-447-8829.