By Kim Kalunian, WPRO Arts and Entertainment Contributor
For a production that literally opens with a magician, Trinity Rep’s take on “A Christmas Carol” this year lacks that special holiday magic.
Of course, the Charles Dickens tale that we’ve all come to know and love is first and foremost a ghost story, and without that supernatural, magical element, the whole piece seems to fall flat. It’s a shame really, because many of Trinity’s finest actors are assembled in this holiday production.
We’ve got Stephen Berenson returning to the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Stephen Thorne as the lovable Bob Cratchit, Brian McEleney as the spectral Marley, Janice Duclos as Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Fezziwig, Phyllis Kay as the Ghost of Christmas Present (among others), Rachel Warren as Mrs. Cratchit and Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Mr. Fezziwig and Old Joe. Toss in some Brown-Trinity consortium students and those adorable local kids, and you’ve got a great roster of players.
I think the problem with this production lies in a lack of visuals. There are really no lighting cues to speak of – everything is lit fairly the same way throughout. The set by Deb O consists of three piles of dusty old junk covered by tarps. Those tarps are used to catch some of the few projections used throughout the play (like a creepy depiction of The Grim Reaper) and some of the pieces concealed underneath become props and set pieces. I expected the set to transform alongside Scrooge…but it did not. It’s not until the final scene that we see what’s beneath (a collection of toys and knick-knacks dressed clumsily in twinkle lights) and get a bit of relief from those drooping tarps.
While the show utilized projections to try and create some atmosphere, the effects didn’t quite read from where I was seated. I so desperately wanted more color and pop, more mirth and merriment – more of a contrast to Scrooge’s tight-fisted, clenching, squeezing, grasping, covetous old ways.
I was also excited for artistic director Curt Columbus’ new adaptation of the play. He’s brought in his own take on the novella, setting aside the Adrian Hall version that Trinity’s used for 40 years. There aren’t too many noticeable changes (aside from a new tavern scene that strips the dialogue from Scrooge’s bed chambers with his bumbling maid) and I was disappointed to hear the same songs yet again. Actually, it seemed as though there were fewer carols overall, and fewer powerful voices to carry their iconic tunes.
I even thought that Scrooge’s journey from miser to merrymaker was a bit muddled in this production, though Berenson’s final moments as the converted Scrooge were just delightful. “You’re in color!” marvels the befuddled Bob Cratchit as Scrooge unveils a maroon coat and hat that makes him look like a Dickensian Willy Wonka.
Overall, I wish this year’s “A Christmas Carol” had a bit more of that holiday magic we’ve come to expect from Dickens’ tale, but it’s still true to form, and that’s really all you need to take away the message and spirit of this holiday classic.
“A Christmas Carol” runs now through December 31 at Trinity Repertory, 201 Washington Street, Providence. For tickets, show times and additional information, call 401-351-4242 or visit trinityrep.com.