A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Eric Hill. Directed by E. Gray Simons III and Eric Hill.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman (♦♦♦♦)
"They’ve done it all in one night."
It’s an epidemic: shows not open for review. Two in a row, including this one, and probably more to come. "Community theater" is the cry from these professional producers, or "Student theater" or "amateur theater" or something I’m just not thinking of as yet. Dickens, who wrote this story, was an amateur actor and he craved reviews, good or bad. The production company roster is a group of professionals and the adaptor, co-director, star has always been presented to us as a professional actor. The credits of the principals in the company reek of much experience and work, some in professional companies, others as interns (a higher level of work than that of apprentices). So why, after reviewing this same production twice at the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Unicorn Theatre (I declined a third go at it when it was offered), is this transformation for the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield off-limits? Who knows. I bought my own ticket and was told "to go ahead and write about it. We can't stop you." Here goes.
It’s certainly not a fear of audience refusal of the piece. The performance I attended on Sunday afternoon was virtually sold out and I hear that much of the run is already heavily sold. Pittsfield has a long history of adoring Christmas Carol and the productions of the piece that I have been involved with have always done extremely well. The answer would seem to reflect on to the sensibilities of a company fearful of inflicting hurt or harm on to its special guest star, who has received national notoriety for doing this role, James Taylor. They needn’t have worried. He is doing a fine job in the role of Bob Cratchit.
Hill himself plays Scrooge, Ebeneezer Scrooge, the most disliked and the most disturbing of psychopaths in all of Dickens’ works. This man hates the world and most especially the celebration of Christmas. As played by Hill he is a man easily convinced of his errors. He gives us a fine image of the miscreant in the first fifteen minutes or so of the play but his transition into believer seems to be awkwardly quicker than that of most other actors in the role. So easily convinced is he that his final scenes just seem to be an extension of his presence to satisfy our need for resolution of other characters stories and problems. Let me say that at his best, Hill gives us an adorable Scrooge, and at his worst an irascible one.
As his puppet, stooge and clerk, James Taylor gives a fine and compassionate performance. He is not a world-class actor but as with the best of his career work as a singer and storyteller he is sincere, honest and moving. Should he make this an annual tradition with this company it wouldn’t be a bad thing for him or them or us.
His wife is being played by his wife who has taken on this role before. Kim Taylor plays the part with a very tight reign on her feelings but even so she lets the emotional content of the role seep through. Scrooge’s youthful love, Belle, is also nicely played by Sarah Elizabeth Bedard.
The three ghosts, played by Britt Faulkner (Past), Brandon Green (Present), and Jacob Gold (future)do their jobs nicely while the ghost of Jacob Marley is taken on with precision and passion by E. Gray Simons III.
Somewhat disappointing was the narration by Michael Brahce who started off beautifully but became a drone by the second act. I don’t understand why this should be so as he was nicely managing the Dickens’ role up to the intermission.
Beautiful violin accompaniments and mood-setting were provided by Courtney Getzin and the choral work of the company, adults and kids alike, was coached to perfection by Tracy Wilson.
Gail Ryan was superb as the Charwoman, Ralph Petillo an engaging Fezziwig, Amy Kane an excellent Martha Cratchit, Sam Gillam an enthusiastic Fred and Emilee Logan a perfect Tiny Tim.
Carl Sprague’s set has adapted well to the larger stage and the costumes by Arthur Oliver and David Murin were well conceived and equally well executed. J Hagenbuckle is doing a very good job with his sound design for this show but with 15 house speakers he could do even more to make the magical effects of this show truly shine.
Need I mention, I like Christmas Carol. I never tire of seeing it, reading it, watching the movies, quoting the characters. This is a production that the Berkshire Theatre Group should be proud of and they should just get over the concept that critics will kill it, or hurt and damage the egos of the players. They should treat it the way that Dickens did: professionally. It’s a triumph and it always has been. Let it go - all the way.
A Christmas Carol plays at the Colonial Theatre on South Street in Pittsfield, MA through December 30. For information or tickets call the box office at 413-997-4444.