Written by Barbara Clark, Barnstable Patriot
Elements Theatre Company rings out the old year with a Readers’ Theater presentation of A Christmas Carol followed by a thrilling ringing of the bells at the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans.
If you get the impression from this review that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite holiday stories, you’ve got it right. It’s way above most of the rest. Does it withstand the simplicity of a Readers’ Theater performance, without stage sets and costumes? You betcha…with bells on.
Elements Theatre Company in Orleans is performing a Readers’ Theatre version of A Christmas Carol, adapted by John Mortimer (creator, by the way, of Rumpole of the Bailey) from the original 1843 Dickens classic, performed at Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans.
The cast, dressed mainly in black, accented with one row of white-shirted actors, is positioned orchestra-like behind easels holding their scripts. Characters occasionally walk to center “stage” to speak lines or, as with the Cratchit family, appear as a group sitting together on a bench. The only costuming is in the creative headgear worn by the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.
But “plainness” of setting just accentuates the play itself. Impeccably directed by Sr. Danielle Dwyer, it reverberates with every bit of the color, humor, pathos and atmosphere of any version you’ve seen on stage or in film, and it’s brought to life with all the effusive glory of Dickens’ words
Brad Lussier as Scrooge is a standout, moving effortlessly from mean old skinflint to whiny uncertainty (to the first ghost: “Ah…will you be staying long?”) to the fear and horror of recognition (he begs the ghost, “No more!”) and on to the childlike joy of his Christmas Day awakening. The rest of the cast, several taking multiple roles, is equally spot-on, with nary a false note in the Brit accents, though occasionally a line or two vanishes out of hearing in the church’s upper recesses.
A huge screen backdrop above the players projects a slide show of affecting images, from grainy impressions of London streets to Scrooge’s bowl of gruel, to Jacob Marley’s face on the door knocker, to a panoramic London skyline.
Scrooge’s dreamtime is effectively conveyed, with chimes ominously sounding at the one o’clock hour and the white-shirted cast in sync with arms conveying the ticking of the clock.
In Readers’ Theatre format we can take flights of fancy, as past images of Scrooge’s ghosts blend in our minds, allowing the imagination to create its own phantom faces. When the specters finally vanish, there’s a much-anticipated sense of relief on Christmas morning as we, along with Scrooge, cast the bed curtains aside and throw wide the windows to call out to the boy below:
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” We know the answer! And we wait for the turkey action – “Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize turkey?” shouts Scrooge, then adding, “Go and buy it!” and our Christmas is complete.
Speaking of BELLS: the performance concluded with a triumphant bell ringing live from the tower across the quad as a group of change ringers perform their marvelous skill. Ringing out into a cold and moonlit night, it turned the winter evening magical.