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Tom Chaney: Christmas at the Theatre
Of Writers And Their Books: Christmas at the Theatre. The lesson of redemption possible in a dark and troubled soul and world is often told at Christmas in Dickens’ classic but needs are always around us. Tom discusses a version of “A Christmas Carol” from 2006 he particularly liked. This column first appeared 25 November 2007.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Roma: from salt makers to the Ides of March
By Tom Chaney
Christmas at the Theatre
Last year I did penance for reviling continuous productions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
My reaction to that old saw had devolved into a fond hope that Ebenezer Scrooge will fail to be converted, that Tiny Tim will be run over by a stray reindeer, and that the nephew Fred will give a party to which no one will come. I had begun to hope that old Ebenezer would swill a dose of Pepto Bismol instead of quaffing an unbelievable draft of the milk of human kindness and sleep dreamless through the night of spirits, sacking Bob Cratchit if he is a minute late for work on December 26.
I admitted I was wrong last year. I saw Kentucky Repertory Theatre's production on the last night it was shown.
The show is back this year, 2007, in repertory with "Tuna Christmas."
Friends were in town last Sunday and the three of us traipsed over to see Scrooge again. I had sung them all praise to Director Robert Brock and company. My friends and I were not disappointed.
In the first place, the production succeeded for me last year and this because of Brock's sensitive and dark adaptation of the original text. The wealthy Scrooge lives surrounded by dire and ignorant poverty amongst the lower echelons of Victorian London. The sense that hopelessness lies close to the veneer of holiday cheer is evident. This is a somber note seldom caught in other productions to which I have been subjected.
In the second place Fred Willecke played the first believable Scrooge I've ever seen. Other productions have left me thinking that old Ebenezer is merely frightened into his conversion to kindness by the parade of spirits which come his way -- led by the clanking ghost of his dead partner Marley.
Willecke lets us watch Scrooge's awakening motivated by the vision the spirits give him of his childhood and young manhood. The audience sees the elder Ebenezer watching the bashful boy verbally abused by his father. We see that same elder Ebenezer deliberately rejecting the sensitive side of his nature and opting for the security of the counting house instead of risking love -- losing Belle who wisely rejects the budding miser.
Scrooge's conversion proceeds from within and is all the more genuine for it. He not only learns affection and generosity, he learns frivolity and joy. And the learning is clearly an inner awakening to the Scrooge that might have been. Much time has been lost, but it is not too late to shed the clanking chains which the dead Marley must bear.
Perhaps the most unexpected delight of KRT's production is the music. Carols and melodies unfamiliar to the 21st Century ear -- drawn from the time when Dickens wrote -- contribute to the overbearing dissonance and fragile joy of life. The music creates a golden vocal thread.
The strength of the production lies not just with sound, script, and Scrooge. It lies with a truly professional ensemble -- such a fine quartet of ghosts! Such a believably joyous party at the home of Scrooge's nephew! And that ensemble is the crowning achievement of Kentucky Repertory Theatre. The experienced professionals set high marks of quality toward which apprentices build.
Dickens "A Christmas Carol" in the hands of Robert Brock and company provides the lesson of redemption possible in a dark and troubled soul and world.
We can all be proud of the performing arts that give us such opportunities as a thought-provoking "A Christmas Carol." Like Scrooge, you have time for redemption.
[RHS: I have edited the final paragraph.]
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney - email@example.com
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