Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Directed by Ted Pugh.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
David Anderson; photo: Dan Region
Jonathan Talbott & Anderson; photo: Dan Region
"Raising a ghost of an idea."
Novelist Charles Dickens often toured and read aloud from his works. "A Christmas Carol" is one of those that lends itself to a single talented voice. Dickens, himself a proud actor on the London stage, undoubtedly did one of hell of a good job portraying the many characters in his famous ghostly saga of Ebenezer Scrooge and the London of the early 19th century.
From our earliest years we are accustomed to someone, mother, nanny, baby-sitter, grandparent, teacher and even good old Dad, reading aloud to us in bed. Combine the idea of Dickens, alive and well, touring through Chatham or Great Barrington at this time of year and the fun of listening to Dad, mom, or whoever, just reading an old favorite for us and you have the gist of the Walking the Dog Theater production of A Christmas Carol. Providing, that is, that you have a talented musician handy behind the screen or curtain to play appropriately ominous and magical music to bridge scenes, replace scenes and simply underscore the emotional content of the story.
David Anderson is the Dickens of the title, and he does a dickens of a good job playing all the major, and minor, roles. In fifty-one minutes he performs the down-sized script version of the novella. It is always interesting to me to see and hear the selections and to note the things that are missing in any staged version of this piece. I have written and directed five different tellings and there are favorite lines that I look forward to hearing and many others that I hope not to hear. WTD Theater’s version is an amalgam of many of the things I like and some of the things I never anticipate, and it is done so well that I don’t even regret the pieces that I look forward to that were skipped over.
Seeing this one-man rendition the same weekend as the highly populated Berkshire Theatre Festival version points up some intriguing differences in interpretation, playing and even performance preferences. On the Unicorn stage the coal burner and the scuttle are together in a room that Bob Cratchit (that name is mis-spelled in the BTF programs) but WTD’s recital of the book indicates quite clearly that the coal and the scuttle are kept sequestered in Scrooge’s office, out of the Clerk’s reach. The WTD edition has no presentation of the orphaned children of mankind "Ignorance" and "Want" - a graphic depiction of the state of the world in Dickens’ time and our own that makes a difference in our perception of the moral of the tale - while the BTF’s children are real and have a lean and hungry look about them.
Each version makes it choices. Anderson chooses not to attempt accents and that works well for his presentation in an up-close and personal presentation in a room, sparsely decorated where the three-rows of seats put everyone within his reach. He doesn’t need the accents to make the characters real, for he has a real ability with presentation and his conversations, reduced to two characters at a time and not three or more, flow with ease.
Pugh has given him three principal playing areas and uses them well. His stage is really a podium here and there is that sense of a man in a multi-use room doing his best to transport his listeners to other times and many places. I regret the loss of Fan. Her short scene is always so compelling for me. I missed seeing Belle when she is flirtatious, but felt that her confrontation with her fiancé Ebenezer was well wrought. It is hard to play the role of a spirit who never speaks but evokes some horror through is physical appearance when there are no costumes to be had and only a gesture or two to use, but Anderson makes the most of those gestures under Pugh’s excellent guidance.
Jonathan Talbott provides the music, the "soundscape" and his presence as a party fiddler. He does it all so well that he helps to close the seams that threaten to erupt in this one-man farrago, this one-man medley of a version of the story. Anderson has the charm to pull off the character and the character he portrays has the talent to tell the story. He’s better than just Dad or Mom or Betty the crazed baby-sitter. Here is an actor’s actor acting.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol plays at Space 360, located at 360 Warren Street in Hudson, NY through December 21 and December 22 and 23 Upstairs at the Triplex in Great Barrington. Tickets are $10-$15. For full schedules, information and availability call Walking the Dog Theater at 518-755-1716 or go to their website at www.wtdtheater.org.