News & Reviews
“A sumptuous Christmas Carol in every way” —Barnstable Patriot
“…An emotionally moving and hope-filled play.” —Cape Codder
Dickens With All the Trimmings in Orleans
By Ellen Petry Whalen, Cape Codder
Traditions are an important part of the holidays. A festive twist to a holiday classic can breathe new life into it, making it more memorable. Elements Theater expertly does just this, by taking the audience on a captivating journey into Charles Dickens’ 1843 London, using all the senses, including taste and smell, to better experience the seasonal favorite, “A Christmas Carol.”
Under the keen direction of Danielle Dwyer, no detail is overlooked in this redemptive classic, about the parsimonious, humbug Scrooge (awe-inspiringly played by Brad Lussier, as he subtly introduces compassion to Scrooge’s hardened heart). In return, the play is brought to a whole new performance level that one will remember for many seasons to come.
While enjoying the moralistic drama, one dines on an old English yuletide banquet of hearty wild mushroom soup with caramelized onions; roast beef and turkey with all of the trimmings; crispy roasted parsnips, carrots and potatoes; an inventive pairing of maple-glazed Brussels sprouts and chopped pecans; steaming-hot popovers; and a choice of three creative and sumptuous trifles for dessert (raspberry and sherry; gingerbread, lemon curd and blackberry; and finally chocolate toffee, each one better than the next).
At the same time, the audience is intermittently serenaded by a band of carolers and seven musicians, from the internationally acclaimed choir Gloriae Dei Cantores, as Scrooge’s ill deeds are laid out before him, by the distinctive spirits of Christmas Past (Sr. Danielle Dwyer), Present (Chris Kanaga) and Future (Kate Shannon). If all this is not enough to draw one into the timeless tale, the stage overflows with London fog; snow on command; an expansive set; richly styled Victorian costumes, for which Elements’ Theatre Company is known; overhead projections of period-London street scenes; and a working gas fireplace.
As usual, the impressively sized and finely tuned Elements’ theatrical troupe does not disappoint with this highly orchestrated performance. Of special note, there is Scrooge’s foil, his monetarily poor but spiritually rich clerk Bob Cratchit, humbly played by Br. Stephen Velie, along with his “crippled” son Tiny Tim, emotionally portrayed by the young Jacob Ortolani, and Scrooge’s effervescent nephew (Kyle Norman), who, despite his old uncle’s ill-humor, still remains hopeful that he will someday find the Christmas spirit. It is also worth noting that this particular adaptation by John Mortimer uses a narrative-chorus approach that adds to the richness of the text.
Dickens and Dinner Served Well by Elements Company
By John Watters, Barnstable Patriot
A sumptuous Christmas Carol in every way
Local theaters across the Cape are dishing up their standard holiday fare, but if you want to enjoy the season in a truly lavish way none will compare to Elements Theatre Company’s spectacular dinner-theater production of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption, A Christmas Carol.
Elements, the resident theater company of the Community of Jesus in Orleans, has a longstanding reputation for presenting first-class theater productions with sharp acting, creative sets and beautiful costumes. With this show, the company has piled it on even more by offering a sumptuous gourmet meal as well.
The 140-year-old tale of Ebenezer Scrooge is almost the most known Christmas story, surpassed only by the original set in a manger in Bethlehem some two millennia ago. The story of the begrudging skinflint scared straight by a series of visitations by spirits is done in many forms, from single-person shows to musicals; the story is etched in everyone’s mind like rime on a winter window pane. Offering a more detailed traditional adaptation than most, Elements’ A Christmas Carol sparkles like new fallen snow under the moon on a crisp, clear night.
Company artistic director Sr. Danielle Dwyer proves her stylistic expertise as she works in concert a huge cast numbering over two dozen, with many of her mainstays playing multiple roles so distinctly and convincingly that you rarely notice the quadrupling, tripling, and doubling of parts.
Playing one role and playing it magnificently well is Brad Lussier as the haunted miser Scrooge. Lussier brings his best as he displays the curmudgeon’s ungenerous resentment of Christmas. With mystical help he eventually warms and melts after seeing the error of his stingy ways and becomes flooded with joy by the play’s end.
In the role of the ghost of Scrooge’s seven-years-dead business partner Jacob Marley, Chris Kanaga sets the perfect tone for a night in which Scrooge will get very little sleep. Kanaga reappears as the festive Spirit of Christmas Present and also fleshes out a couple of lesser roles proving he truly is a man of many disguises.
Equally adept at multiple personalities, director Dwyer is a wonderfully ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past, a beguilingly plump partygoer Miss Rosie and a seamy charwoman to boot. One wonders if she isn’t in concealing attire in the lobby ripping ticket stubs as well.
Showing zest and zeal as Scrooge’s underappreciated clerk Bob Cratchit, Br. Stephen Velie is charming as the father and husband of his family whose youngest is the all-time poster child of the lame and lovable, Tiny Tim, played nicely by Jacob Ortolani.
Kyle Norman, as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, also does his job well as does everyone in every role in the cast.
Elements’ production succeeds on many levels. The acting and costumes are top notch. Backed with live choirs of carolers and exceptional special effects the show is a feast for the eyes and ears.
But speaking of feasts, the food offering just might steal the whole show. A three-course menu featuring turkey and rib-eye steak with all the exquisite fixings, finished off by an assortment of flavored trifles, rivals any five-star restaurant fare, all served on fine china by an efficient corps of attendants.
If that wasn’t enough the pre-show time is filled with a bright-sounding brass quintet performing seasonal tunes. All in all, it is a most enjoyable evening of dining and entertainment.
“Carol” Rings in Christmas Spirit
Kate Macdonald, Cape Cod Times
With the recent wave of warm weather, it has not felt like the Christmas season is rapidly approaching. Elements Theatre Company, however, changes all of that with its latest production, “A Christmas Carol.”
This Charles Dickens classic was first published in London in 1843. The book told the story of the tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge, an old man who has lost the Christmas spirit. After treating everyone he comes into contact with rudely, he is visited by three Christmas spirits who attempt to show him the error of his ways. But are they too late? Is Scrooge beyond help.
“A Christmas Carol” is a timeless and universally known tale that has been adapted countless times. The book has been translated into plays, musicals, multiple Disney movies (most recently starring Jim Carrey in 2009), operas and television specials. Some versions are child-friendly, while others follow Dickens’ edition exactly.
Elements Theatre Company’s production follows the more traditional route. The language used in Victorian England is very proper, and may go over the heads of younger audience members. The show as a whole, however, is definitely appropriate for all ages.
Brad Lussier truly shines as Scrooge. His passion for the role is nearly tangible and can be seen when there are tears in his eyes as he tries to make amends. Playing a crotchety old man one minute and a lighthearted fellow the next, Lussier shows off his acting chops.
Also noteworthy is the performance of Brother Stephen Velie as the ever happy and hopeful Bob Cratchit. Due to his cheerful demeanor, it’s almost as if the mood of the play is lifted when he walks onstage, even in the darkest of scenes.
Chris Kanaga shows his versatility by taking on multiple roles such as Jacob Marley, the Spirit of Christmas Present and the despicable Old Joe. Sister Danielle Dwyer also undertakes numerous responsibilities, not only directing the production, but appearing as the ethereal Spirit of Christmas Past and the Charwoman.
There are many behind-the-scenes stars of “A Christmas Carol,” particularly the many people in charge of costumes, makeup and the set itself. These three elements combine to seemingly transport the audience to 19th-century London. From the falling “snow” to the streetlamp in the seating area, the simple yet powerful set actually makes viewers believe they are part of the action.
The music of the play becomes almost like part of the background as well. The brass band featured adds to the mood of each scene, especially when Brother Christopher Swidrak plays a heartbeatlike dirge on the tuba during the darkest scene. Both the chorus and carolers, who walk through the audience singing traditional Christmas songs, often signaling scene changes, are of professional quality.
“A Christmas Carol,” shown at the Paraclete House, is being featured as a dinner-theater presentation People of all ages will enjoy some food, carols and a classic tale of recapturing the Christmas spirit. This production by Elements Theatre Company kicks off the season right.
Cape Cod Times Review