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A 'Carol' from kids from one to ninety-two

A review by R.H. Joseph

As ever, the Alliance Theatre's holiday production of "A Christmas Carol" is an entertaining seasonal celebration for kids from one to ninety-two.

So many factors contribute to this success: lighting and sound, set design, costumes and, to be sure, the actors. The production is truly a collaborative success.

Visually the set is as abundant as those mythical feasts depicted in the holiday illustrations of Norman Rockwell and as evocative as a Currier & Ives lithograph.

Already warm and fuzzy before the first Christmas carol, once the flock of costumed songbirds takes metaphorical wing a pervasive happiness enriches and elevates all in attendance.

Then it happens. A chill runs through us because we know it's him, Ebenezer Scrooge, even before he turns.

And when he does we see, we feel, this is a man who walks but does not live, who breathes but cannot touch. The moment is stunning, to some degree because of the lighting and ghastly makeup (self-applied) but in large part due to the grave countenance of Chris Kayser's Scrooge.

In this, his eleventh season in the role at the Alliance, Kayser has crossed a threshold: he no longer portrays the embittered, niggardly Ebenezer Scrooge; he has become the skinflint. It is Scrooge who demands our attention, Scrooge who transforms this whimsical tale into a textured exploration of human nature; a morality tale depicting the death and resurrection of a man's soul.

Sure, the production is full of talented actors but the nature of the play limits their ability to flesh their characters. In contrast to Scrooge they are naught but symbols, embodiments of goodness (with the exception of Jacob Marley).

So much more than a dyspeptic curmudgeon, Kayser offers a Scrooge of palpable antiquity. Such a convincing creation is worthy of admiration by anyone aspiring to the acting profession.

We know, we feel this Scrooge is withered, older than his years, by virtue of the actor's consummate craft. Clearly Kayser is a discerning, perceptive being and possesses the discipline to practice and thereby incorporate those minute physical details that define the behavior of the aged.

Observe the actor's mouth, how it hangs open. There is a difference between deliberately opening one's mouth in feigned awe, a common technique among actors of lesser distinction, and allowing one's mouth to reflect the flaccid musculature of the very old.

In a transitional state between the physical and metaphysical, the exceedingly elderly appear only peripherally aware of their physical continuity; ego and superego have flown and with them, self-awareness.

Sure, you and the young'uns will have a whale of a time with the spirited Dickens classic (adapted and directed by David H. Bell), but don't think you're not getting some serious theater in the mix.

Watch Marley's (Thomas Neal Antwon Ghant) eyes, for example. The Alliance Theatre is a large space yet Ghant works the house with but a glance. That's acting.

Similarly, LaParee Young presents such a commanding physical presence in his role as the Ghost of Christmas Present, it is as though the air in the room is compressed by virtue of this aura.

Wisely, this production is far more than a procession of bright, happy vignettes. The director allows some deliciously chilling moments both through technical wizardry and well-conceived circumstances. We shudder when Marley first touches Scrooge.

It is better to feel a play than simply watch it. Because "A Christmas Carol" is primarily a delightful entertainment, it is easy to overlook the qualitative essence of this production.

Consider the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (LaParee Young and Elisabeth Omilami), for example. So effortlessly are these embodiments of the Yuletide spirit brought to life, you'd better wear garters or they'll charm your socks off. You wont remember how they did it, you'll simply remember that they did. That's craft.

I say all this for before I see to my critical responsibilities I wanted to make perfectly clear the Alliance Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol" is a supreme family treat.

One hates to grouse, what with the season and all, but a job's a job.

First and foremost among my criticisms is the unintelligible children. Tiny Tim too? Tiny Tim too!

That's because in previous productions they've had kids who could clearly articulate and project I know the task can be accomplished. How unfortunate that every so often during the course of the evening, though straining to understand, whatever is being said never leaves the stage.

For this I hold the director responsible. And as Bell not only directs but adapted the work, I must question his decision to alter the play's conclusion.

The issue is not about tampering with a classic, it's about whether this decision produces equally interesting and ennobling results. For me it does not.

Still, these small caveats are insignificant when compared with the joyous, colorful, radiant achievement at hand.