Trinity Repertory Company's annual presentation of A Christmas Carol heralds the start of the Christmas season in Rhode Island. Over 35 years, the company has perfected the traditional performance of Dickens' tale, though each season brings creative alterations to keep the production fresh.
The 2011 Christmas Carol is no exception, and this year's show brilliantly demonstrates Trinity's reputation as an ambitious and innovative company by removing Ebenezer Scrooge from nineteenth-century England and instead situating him in America, circa 1959. There are no snow-lined London streets or formal Victorian drawing rooms in this production; director Christopher Windom effectively re-imagines Scrooge in a world of pinstripe suits, TV dinners and live radio plays.
Even with this prominent shift in environment, fans of a traditional Christmas Carol may rest assured that the beloved story of Scrooge's ghostly visitors and his ultimate redemption is not sacrificed in Trinity's first-rate production. Much of the established script remains intact, including Stave One's familiar "Requiem" sung by the dying Jacob Marley (Richard Donelly). Indeed, this foundational scene is especially unnerving as the festive tunes crooning out of the radio (beautifully sung by D'Arcy Dersham) jarringly intercut with the desperation and ominous foreboding attending Marley's imminent end.
Brian McEleney takes the lead as Trinity's avaricious Ebenezer, and a miserly Scrooge he is. He crumbles a paper snowflake – lovingly crafted by one of the young Cratchits – taped to Bob Cratchit's desk, chases carolers away with a baseball bat and, when finally face-to-face with the spectral form of the ghostly Jacob Marley, Scrooge appears more annoyed at the interruption than fearful of his first otherworldly guest. McEleney subtly transforms his character during the course of each successive unearthly encounter; by the time the three apparitions have finished their work, McEleney's Scrooge is a new man, infectious in his joy, literally leaping and dancing at his chance to begin his life anew.
Stephen Thorne plays Scrooge's longsuffering clerk, Bob Cratchit. Thorne takes the familiar traits audiences have come to expect from the character – his optimistic point of view, pleasant and sociable demeanor and, above all else, fierce devotion to family – and crafts an endearing and identifiable Cratchit. He excels in scenes of lighthearted humor and playful interactions and turns in a truly heartrending performance when the Ghost of the Future foreshadows a grief-stricken Bob Cratchit mourning for his youngest child.
Ricky Oliver is all luminosity as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Arriving in a bejeweled satin suit and a frilly dress shirt, this flashy phantom – part Buddy Holly, part Jerry Lee Lewis – delivers the familiar line, "You have never seen the like of me before!" with great relish. A rock 'n' roll teen idol certainly embodies the spirit of the late-1950s and this flamboyant characterization cleverly accentuates the Ghost's message. Throughout his scenes, Oliver periodically drops the colorful façade to soberly deliver crucial truths to the willful Scrooge and, toward the end of the Spirit's visit, literally sheds his sparkle and glitter for plain garb, very effectively providing a transition to the eerie visitation from the Ghost of the Future.
Several veteran members of Trinity's resident Acting Company also take the stage, including the scene-stealing Frank Sullivan, Jr. and the always wonderful Barbara Meek. Meek and Sullivan play multiple characters throughout A Christmas Carol, but they shine as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, especially during the hilarious "12 Days of Christmas" sing-along and pantomime.
The 2011 production of A Christmas Carol is a fabulous way to start or continue a Christmastime theatergoing tradition at Trinity Rep. A Christmas Carol plays Trinity Repertory Company through December 30, 2011 (all November performances are sold out). Tickets are available online at www.trinityrep.com, by phone (401) 351-4242, or by visiting the box office at 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI. Regular ticket prices range from $26-$68 and children (ages 2-14) pay $15-$18; contact the box office for group rate information.