“A Christmas Carol” is Sleeker, But Chipped Around the Edges

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Greedy miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is given one chance to redeem his soul.  Will a visit by the three spirits of Christmas be enough to gain salvation?  This is the story of A Christmas Carol adapted by Charles Jones from the classic novel by Charles Dickens and celebrating its 40th anniversary at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Question:  How do you breathe new life into a 40 year old tradition?

Answer:  You put Hilary Adams at the helm.

Ms Adams’ direction gives A Christmas Carol a new lease on life.  More importantly, her direction went a long way in giving me the A Christmas Carol that I’ve long wanted to see.  Ms Adams accomplished this task by trimming a lot of unnecessary fat from the play, cutting a whiplash pace, and, for the most part, guiding her actors to natural, realistic performances.  I applaud Ms Adams for her staging of the story and she and the stage crew deserve especially high praise for the seamless and effortless scene changes.  The only critiques of her direction are that she needed to rein in some of the more cartoony performances that weakened this incredibly realistic production and to slow down the pace just a little bit.  Some of the actors were talking so fast that diction suffered and some important beats got glossed over.

I was extraordinarily pleased with Jerry Longe’s performance as Scrooge.  This was actually my third go-around in watching this play and the two previous times I thought Scrooge was missing something crucial.  This time I got a pitch-perfect Scrooge.  Longe’s Scrooge is cold-hearted, mean, greedy, selfish, and those are his better points.  This is a man that needs redemption.  I thought Longe was especially effective in making Scrooge’s salvation a drawn out process.  He fights changing tooth and nail and changes just a little with each interaction with the spirits until he finally sees the error of his ways.  That slow process makes the light-hearted, giddy Scrooge utterly believable when he is, at long last, redeemed.

Longe does need to slow down his delivery.  I lost some of his dialogue in Act I because he was speaking so quickly, though his speed was much more controlled in Act II.

David Krenkel was a wonderful surprise as he made his Playhouse debut as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk.  Krenkel was utterly natural as Cratchit.  He imbued a wonderful fatherliness and goodness into his role which had me believing him from start to finish.

I was underwhelmed by Don Keelan-White’s portrayal of Jacob Marley.  Keelan-White’s rushed line delivery resulted in the loss of character and made it feel like he was simply going through the motions.  Marley should exude a sense of otherworldliness and he seemed all too human to me.  Instead of speaking faster, Keelan-White just needs to close up the spaces between his words.  This will allow him to retain nuance without sacrificing pace.

Bridget Robbins strikes all the right notes as the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Ms Robbins found quite a few nice character moments in her role.  I was especially impressed with how her Spirit was concerned about Scrooge’s welfare, yet had no qualms about giving him a metaphorical shot to the mouth by using his own cruel words against him.

I am not quite certain what Michael Farrell was trying to accomplish with his interpretation of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  His phrasing was rather odd which made it difficult for me to understand what he was saying.  Farrell’s vocal quality also made it seem like he was trying to be jolly (which did come through) and magisterial (which did not quite hit the mark).

The ensemble was always engaged in the action, but there were several notable performances in smaller roles.  Don Harris impressed as Jake, especially in a scene where he tries to stand up to the usurious Scrooge before caving into him.  Emily Mokrycki is splendid as Mrs. Cratchit and strikes the perfect balance between love for her family and disdain for Scrooge.  Megan Friend excels with a sweet turn as Belle Fezziwig, the one-time fiancée of Scrooge, and a hilarious turn as the thieving Mrs. Dilber.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra add to the feeling of Christmas with bright and spritely renditions of Christmas carols.  Georgiann Regan’s costumes perfectly fit the Victorian tale.  Jim Othuse’s sets, lighting, and special effects are absolutely marvelous.

I understand that over 70% of the cast was appearing in this play for the first time.  That much new blood combined with opening night jitters may account for some of the bumps I saw tonight with diction, volume, and interpretation, especially in Act I.  The cast seemed to find their groove in Act II which is a good sign that they will reach their full potential for this 40th anniversary run.  All quibbles aside, I still consider this to be the best version of A Christmas Carol that I’ve seen at the Playhouse in the nearly 19 years I’ve lived in Omaha.  Even if you have seen the play before, I promise you surprises that will make it new all over again.

A Christmas Carol plays at the Omaha Playhouse through December 23.  Performances are Wednesdays at 7pm, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6:30pm.  There are no performances on Nov 25 or 26, but two additional performances will be held on Dec 22 and 23 at 7:30pm.  Before Dec 15, tickets are $36 for adults and $25 for students.  Tickets for the Dec 15-23 performances are $40 for adults and $29 for students.  For reservations contact the OCP box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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