BWW Review: John Kevin Jones Returns To Merchant's House Museum For Warm and Intimate A CHRISTMAS CAROL
For the past five holiday seasons, savvy New York playgoers have been filling the upstairs parlor of East 4th Street's Merchant's House Museum for a warm and intimate evening of Christmas cheer; Summoners Ensemble Theatre's delightful production of actor John Kevin Jones recreating Charles Dickens' solo readings of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Their 2018 engagement is the third time this reviewer has attended, and Jones' thoroughly engaging performance keeps getting better and better.
Audience members are asked to imagine themselves living in Manhattan in December of 1867, when Mr. Dickens was appearing at Steinway Hall as part of a five-month American tour where he gave readings from works such as "David Copperfield," "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby," "The Pickwick Papers" and, of course, "A Christmas Carol."
At that time, the 1832 landmark building that is now the 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 premise of Jones' performance, directed by Dr. Rhonda Dodd, is that the famous author was, in fact, invited to give a private performance for a special 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.
Like the author, the actor uses an abridged version of the original text for his performance, exuding energetic charm and warmth 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 just his voice and some simple physicality, Jones clearly paints pictures of the poor fellows soliciting donations for the less fortunate as a robust, jowly gentleman and his reedy squawking companion. His Scrooge seems to fancy himself as quite a wit, as his cruel remarks about how to deal with those who suffer are delivered as though he expects hearty laughs when they land.
With outstretched arms, his creates an intimidating figure as the ghost of Jacob Marley, bellowing in an eerie growl that's continually gasping for breath. The rich assortment of characters that follow, from grandly Shakespearean to music hall slick to storybook innocent, are played with realism befitting the intimate setting.
Perhaps more than in recent years, the issues making headlines this holiday season serve as reminders of Charles Dickens' message of the importance of thinking of ourselves less as individuals and more as part of a community; a world community in this century. Jones' performance, particularly when portraying the author himself, is a celebration of not only the holiday season, but of the value of everyday kindness.