BWW Review: John Kevin Jones Delightfully Re-creates Charles Dickens' Readings of A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Since its first publication in 1843, Charles Dickens' holiday classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, has been adapted countless times for various stages, screens and pages, but undoubtedly the most authentic presentations of the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts who assist in his transformation into a kind and generous soul were the numerous live readings the author gave during the last 18 years of his life.
Many of those readings took place in December of 1867 at New York's Steinway Hall, as part of a five-month American tour, where he also gave readings from works, such as "David Copperfield," "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" and "The Pickwick Papers."
At that time, the 1832 landmark building that is now the home of East 4th Street's Merchant's House Museum was the residence of Eliza Tredwell, widow of hardware businessman Seabury Tredwell, and their children.
While it's possible that the Tredwells may have attended a performance by Dickens at the nearby auditorium on 14th Street, the Summoners Ensemble Theatre's delightful production recreating the great novelist's reading presents the premise that he was, in fact, invited to give a private performance for an intimate holiday gathering.
So rows of chairs are set up in the Greek Revival parlor of what is now the city's only 19th century family home preserved virtually intact with original furnishings and personal belongings. There's also a Christmas tree and some holiday sprucing, creating a festive and historic background for John Kevin Jones' thoroughly engaging solo performance.
Jones certainly looks quite a bit younger than the 54-year-old Dickens who arrived in America. And while he, like the author, uses an abridged version of the original text for his hour-long performance, Jones seems to be working totally from memory, unlike the originator.
No doubt he's a better actor, too, exuding an energetic charm and a sly sense of humor while narrating the piece as Mr. Dickens, then shifting into a nasal crackle for Scrooge, who gives incredulous looks of disbelief when his nephew Fred and the visiting charity men invite him to partake in the spirit of the holiday.
With outstretched arms, his ghost of Jacob Marley is an eerie, breathy growl. As directed by Dr. Rhonda Dodd, the assortment of characters that follow, from richly Shakespearean to music hall slick to storybook innocent, are played with realism befitting the intimate setting.
This is the fourth consecutive year that The Merchant's House has hosted Summoners Ensemble Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL and the entire run was sold out, as were added performances, well in advance. Playgoers looking for a special Christmas treat would be advised to inquire early about 2017.