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Saturday, November 28, 2009

CHRISTMAS CAROL'D at the Performance Network

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a stirring and beautiful story, about a bad guy who gratefully grabbed his last chance to reform and was redeemed. Dickens loved the secular aspects of Christmas and celebrated them in this story, but the master story teller knew it was the story that counted. Yet adaptations I’ve seen on the big and small screens and four on stage miss the mark in one way or another. Some are just treacly and play on the holiday season, and some are so bound-up in the text they turn this lovely tale into so many sticks of wood or get lost in details.

Tonight, I was treated to Joe Zettelmaier’s crack at the chestnut, “Christmas Carol’d” thoughtfully, even brilliantly, mounted at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, and had a very happy surprise. Joe Z obviously understands Mr. Dickens’ book and knows how to dramatize it. The words are preserved for the most part, but the dramatic scenes are neatly intertwined with the narration, done by four excellent and well-cast actors who also play all the roles but Scrooge (B. J. Love, Terry Heck, Chelsea Sadler and Kevin Young). David Wolber’s direction keeps the story flowing so the two complement each other as they gracefully flow back and forth. What emerges is not an adapted book, but a play.

This jewel of a show sits on a luxurious cushion of Christmas Carols, artfully selected and beautifully sung – a cappella – by the four non-Scrooge actors.

None of this would be quite as moving or as enjoyable without John Seibert’s touching depth and sparkling wit as Scrooge. He nailed that part.

Monika Essen’s lovely and cleverly serviceable set and Dan Walker’s lights work hand in hand with Wolber’s direction to facilitate the action. And Ms. Essen’s costumes are pitch perfect.

I was entertained and moved. What more can you expect from an evening of theater?

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