Trinity’s ‘Carol’: A bright bulb on your holiday tree

Brian McEleney as Ebenezer Scrooge with the ensemble of A Christmas Carol,directed James Dean Palmer at Trinity Rep. Set design by Michael McGarty, lighting design by Seth Reiser, costume design by Michael Krass. Photo Mark Turek.

Brian McEleney as Ebenezer Scrooge with the ensemble of A Christmas Carol, directed by James Dean Palmer at Trinity Rep. Set design by Michael McGarty, lighting design by Seth Reiser, costume design by Michael Krass. Photo Mark Turek.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – In its 39th annual telling, the tale is markedly different. And, even though he has no say in the matter anymore, I believe Charles Dickens would approve.

The Trinity Repertory Company’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” is awash in great good humor, brimming with original and interesting tweaks and turns, enough to make us fall in love with the piece once again

Brian McEleney is portraying Scrooge for the fifth time, with the requisite “humbug” balanced by just the right amount of bewilderment and wonder at all that is going on around him, and he also injects a generous dose of audience involvement.

McEleney noted in a program interview what keeps theater-goers coming back: the theater’s willingness to reinvent the piece each year, with different designers, director, etc.

Indeed, this production never misses a chance to insert a laugh where one seemingly didn’t exist before, including making the Solicitors for the Poor – Matt Ketai and Stephen Thorne – happy, bumbling, hapless souls who are first abused by Scrooge, which makes it just as funny when he redeems himself with them at the end.

Rebecca Gibel as the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol, directed James Dean Palmer at Trinity Rep. Set design by Michael McGarty, lighting design by Seth Reiser, costume design by Michael Krass. Photo Mark Turek.

Rebecca Gibel as the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol, directed James Dean Palmer at Trinity Rep. Set design by Michael McGarty, lighting design by Seth Reiser, costume design by Michael Krass. Photo Mark Turek.

On Christmas Eve, a beleaguered, busy single father (Kamili Okweni Feelings) is besieged upon his arrival home by his children, who want him to recite “A Christmas Carol,” to them, and as he does so, it magically comes alive.

This production owes much not only to the seasoned company members but to the young cadre of talented performers – at a recent press night, the “green team” of Lillian Johnson, Lana Lacombe, and Gustavo Londono – who add energy and enthusiasm to every role they play, including the Cratchit children, while Johnson and Lacombe are the charming “turkey girls” who heft the giant bird Scrooge sends off to the Cratchit family

In this adaptation, the composition of the Cratchit family has been tweaked; Bob (Chris Stahl) is now a single father, aided by his loving mother, played by Anna Scurria, who’s just wonderful in a variety of roles, especially as a fearsome Jacob Marley and later as a scurrilous Old Jo, who brokers the sales of Scrooge’s belongings after his death.

Stahl’s Bob Cratchit is earnest, terrified of his master Scrooge but a warm, winning presence while Michael Mahoney is a stolid, good-humored Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, as well as a heartbroken Young Scrooge.

The costumes by Michael Krass are striking, none moreso than the form-fitting white outfit worn by Rebecca Gibel as The Ghost of Christmas Past. Her character makes a rather surprising, memorable and hilarious entrance into the story, one of several surprises you won’t see coming.

Krass has also transformed Rachael Warren’s Ghost of Christmas Present into a dazzling, gold-haired disco diva. In a show such as this, the unsung heroes are those aiding the lightning-quick changes required by those performers who may be playing several roles.

Director James Dean Palmer went into this project determined to leave his mark on the piece and he has done just that; it’s safe to say that both Act III and Act V will include groups of people who have never been represented in this play before.

Richard Cumming’s original music and period pieces add just the right touch as performed under the capable music direction of Michael Price, while choreographer Myah Shein has several surprises in store working in conjunction with what Palmer and Company are up to.

This is a handsomely designed and presented piece. Krass’ aforementioned costumes dazzle, while the innovative set design by Michael McGarty includes Scrooge and Marley’s counting house with several rows of windows, with various characters popping out of them from time to time. The set is paired with evocative lighting by Seth Reiser that suggests the season and the sound design by Miles Polaski puts a shiny Christmas gloss on the holiday sounds in the Chace Theater.

This “Carol” is a bright theatrical bulb on your family tree, a fresh new look at a classic.

The Trinity Repertory Company adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by James Dean Palmer. At the Chace Theater through Dec. 31. trinityrep.com.

 

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