By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call
Before A Christmas Story, before the classic claymation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, even before It’s a Wonderful Life, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol established itself as a holiday staple. You know the story: Scrooge, rich in pocket but poor of heart, is shown the error of his ways via a series of visitations, then turns it all around in the St. Nick of time, and “God bless us, everyone!”
I used that same opening paragraph exactly one year ago in this space when Long Beach Playhouse staged an entirely new, in-house adaptation of Dickens’s classic. But this year they’re giving us a straightforward take, so there goes my Xmas present of getting paid to simply reprint an old review. Bah!
If you’re not put off by the fact that this iteration of perhaps the all-time classic Christmas story brings nothing new to the table and simply need to satisfy your traditionalist jones, you’re in good hands here. Gregory Cohen, ‘Phie Mura, and director Evan Battle’s adaptation barely deserves the term ― I’m only using it because they put it on the program ― so straightforwardly do they tell the tale. Despite the fact that he didn’t write A Christmas Carol for the stage, Dickens himself would likely see this take as a natural retelling, which even includes the original narrative voice in the person of Julian Bremer, whose easy charm and eloquence make him perfect for the part.
And surely Mr. Dickens would be delighted by the way Robb Tracy brings his most famous character to life. Probably the production’s most novel element is how funny Tracy makes him. Without sacrificing any of the humbuggery, Tracy finds numerous laughs between the cracks, providing effective comic relief. Aiding the mood-lightening is Carlos G. Rodriguez as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. I’ve not seen a Fred quite so confident and breezy (and I’ve seen plenty), a turn that makes for an especially believable dynamic. Because really, how seriously can you take a relative as crabby as Scrooge?
Although there’s little to criticize about this staging, I could not shake the nagging feeling that perhaps Cohen/Mura/Battle cut too much. Clocking in at a mere 70 minutes, perhaps there’s not quite enough time spent establishing mood? Are we missing a few lines we really ought to have? I’m not quite sure, but the feeling persists, so….
My other minor complaint concerns the Ghost of Christmas Future. Portrayed by a simple but very fine-looking puppet, the initial image is fabulous, but for the rest of this leg of Scrooge’s journey I kept wishing it was more active, more alive.
Everything else is spot-on. The rest of the cast is great (well, there is one little girl who needs to learn to project a bit more, but never mind), Rebecca Roth’s costumery is exactly what it should be, and David Zahacewski’s lighting design is noteworthy for its unexpected brightness, streaming down from a variety of angles like shafts of sunlight slicing through shifting cloudbanks. Battle’s direction wants for nothing, with blocking that utilizes the entire Mainstage space.
Perhaps you’ve seen A Christmas Carol so many times you don’t see the point of seeing it again. But if you feel that ’tis the season to be explicitly reminded that “‘[i]t is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen” so that we might “think of people below [us] as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys” (gosh, I love that line!), Long Beach Playhouse is here for you again this year.
A Christmas Carol at Long Beach Playhouse
Times: Thurs–Sat 8:00 p.m., Sun 2:00 p.m. The show runs through Dec. 22.
Cost: $14 to $24
Details: (562) 494-1014; LBplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach