New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

"A Christmas Carol"
Westport Country Playhouse, Westport

With several versions of the Dickens holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol,” now playing here in Connecticut, how does one choose the most appropriate version for youngsters? Which will prove the least scary, most entertaining, and most edifying, and will, as Tiny Tim intones, “God bless us every one”?

The version we sampled at the Westport Country Playhouse had both its strengths and its drawbacks. Its fifteen songs enhanced the production, turning the matinee into a kind of concert, but causing the famous story to drag as a result.

Director Tazewell Thompson (WCP Artistic Director), had incorporated such songs as “Here We Come a’Wassailing,” and “What Child is This?”--both traditional English songs. Under Thompson’s direction the chorus moved and sang impeccably, displaying a roster of fine voices and careful footwork. Other old Welsh and European songs further added to the sense of a 19th century Dickensian world, as did the design work. Donald Eastman’s set design, with its frost-encrusted window panes, lighting designer Jorge Arroyo’s cozily-lit rooms contrasting with the dark outside world, and Randall E. Klein’s black, white and gray Dickensian costumes all helped turn the stage into a Christmas greeting card.

But the story itself sometimes went into hiding, waiting for the next chance to move forward. The plot, as we all know, deals with the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge, who lives to gather money and refuses to get into the holiday spirit. In fact, he gives his employees (and every one else, including his own nephew) a hard time. But the night before Christmas his dreams are invaded by his former partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Suddenly these scary visitations bring about a new repentant Scrooge, a new man. By the next morning, he sends a turkey to the Cratchit family, gives money to charitable causes, and, for the first time, joins his nephew’s family for Christmas. Thus, in this simple tale of repentance, reformation, and redemption, Dickens gives us his Christmas message. Tis the season to show one’s fellow man warmth, love and generosity.

Competent actors have been recruited for the numerous feature roles in this large cast, among them: Mary Jo Mecca as Mrs. Moggs, Allen E. Read as Young Scrooge, Steven Stein-Grainger as Fezziwig, and Michelle Dawson as Belle (Scrooge’s early love). Wynn Harmon in the lead role as Scrooge, delivers lines impeccably but misses the larger-than-life portrait which would have heightened the story. Morever, Scrooge’s turnabout (which comes about so quickly, and with so little angst) is not convincing. But Tazewell’s adaptation itself, as much as the performance, may be responsible for this disappointment.

Yet this “Christmas Carol” is not without its charms, not the least of which are the area children recruited for the show. One must praise Thompson’s efforts to turn this Christmas show into a community-based operation. And, we must acknowledge, the children, both on stage and in the audience, appeared to enjoy the show thoroughly.

-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 3, 2006

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