BWW Review: John Kevin Jones Recreates Charles Dickens' Readings Of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Landmark Merchant's House Museum
It may not be as well-known a holiday tradition as seeing The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, but for the fifth straight year, the Summoners Ensemble Theatre's delightful presentation of John Kevin Jones' thoroughly engaging solo performance of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Merchant's House Museum is one of the hardest-to-get tickets in town.
Though the 1843 classic has been adapted countless times for various stages, screens and pages, what gives Jones' performance added textures is that his is a recreation of what were 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; 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 Merchant's House building on East 4th Street 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, Jones 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. 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, he works 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.
Beneath it all, though, is the sincerity of the author's message that we are all put in this Earth to care for one another. Though he knew his novel was a popular success, Dickens couldn't possibly have fathomed how synonymous it would become with the holiday season, and Jones' performance heartwarmingly expresses the novelist's belief that we are placed in this world to enjoy the blessing of one another's good fellowship.