BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE at The Wren's Nest
There's a new immersive theatrical experience at the Wren's Nest Museum in Atlanta this month, and it's definitely going to ring your Christmas bell. From the mind of visionary Atlanta director Brian Clowdus comes The Christmas Carol Experience, an interactive holiday concoction that's two parts Christmas party and one part Dickensian storytelling. The storytelling component of the evening offers little more than a wave at Dickens' frumpy and heavy-handed holiday novella, A Christmas Carol. Instead, it relies on the audience to bring a bit of working knowledge of Ebenezer Scrooge, literary history's most famous mizer, while it, bolstered by an impressive cast of five actors, provides the perfect 19th-century atmospheric backdrop, courtesy of The Wren's Nest, one of Atlanta's oldest homes with ghost-story spookiness built right in, and an abundance of holiday cheer.
Here's how the experience works: The audience, all mourners at Jacob Marley's funeral, with Christmas cocktails in hand, are free to travel about the open rooms of the museum. What happens next depends on which characters are in the room. If Ebenezer and his deliciously ghostly guide, Marley, are present, the rooms offer up newly reimagined versions of Ebenezer's encounters with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. If Ebenezer and Marley are not present, the rooms offer up interactive holiday cheer - maybe a singalong or a fun game. Newsflash: If you don't end up singing a solo in a room full of strangers before you leave, you did it wrong.
This unusual rendering of the holiday classic demands only five actors, and each one is up to the challenge of providing a believable, up-close-and-personal experience. Of particular note are the performances of the beautifully Bah Humbug-gy Daniel Burns in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and an incredibly talented Jordan Patrick in the role of the doomed-for-eternity Jacob Marley. Their laudable, non-verbal storytelling skills nicely supplement the thin script, leaving the audience with a rich and satisfying experience. Lilliangina Quinones, Julie Trammel Key, and Rosie Gyselinck, all playing women from Scrooge's life who take on the roles of Ebenezer's Christmas ghosts, are, in addition to carrying their equal parts of the forward movement of the story, all up to the demanding task of leading rooms full of people through carols and games while remaining firmly rooted in the 19th-century sensibilities of their characters.
The production is, unarguably, a pure sensory delight. The Wren's Nest, with its creaky floorboards and weather-stained walls and ceiling, is the important sixth character in this cast of characters, and it is impressive in its role. In addition to the authentic Victorian oppressiveness that comes with the house, thick fog and eerie lighting aptly service the needs of the story and underscore the beauty of Clowdus's carefully crafted stage pictures.
Here's a helpful tip: Follow Scrooge and Marley into the first room ... if you can. The experience is disorienting by nature, and following the story from beginning to end will likely quell some of the initial feelings of bewilderment you might face. But if Marley slams the door In Your Face while you are trying to enter that first room, as he did mine, don't fret. The story, as it is meant to do, will culminate in a softer and more charitable Scrooge, and it will leave you feeling the joy of the holiday season no matter the order in which you experience it.