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God bless us everyone for this lovely start to the Holiday Season of theatre


Ever since that wonderful gem of a local theatre company, The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) moved to their beautiful facility in downtown Baltimore, I have developed a level of respect for the talented and committed individuals who operate the company with a level of professionalism that leads to one great production after another. The chain is unbroken with this year's holiday offering of the perineal favorite, "A Christmas Carol."

This new, pared-down version of the Charles Dickens classic has lost none of its appeal for its brevity. The official press release says it 'has been trimmed to a nimble and energetic 90 minutes' and I have to agree with that. It is both of those descriptors and so much more.

In the unlikely possibility that you've been on a different planet for the past 177 years or so, the story concerns one Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly skinflint who owns a counting house (never have been sure exactly what that is), has a lot of money, no heart, no friends, is hated by everyone he has offended (which is pretty much everyone), and is an all around mean old jerk. He has an overworked assistant named Bob Cratchit who in turn has a lovely wife and family, including the adorable Tiny Tim, a little cutie with a bum leg. The night before Christmas, Scrooge is visited by a series of ghosts who are charged with showing him the error of his curmudgeonly ways and giving him the chance to change his evil ways and repent his dastardly treatment of his fellow man and single surviving family member, his nephew, Fred.

Co-Directors Lizzi Albert and Erin Bone Steele have designed a lean production that wastes no time and sacrificed none of the pertinent story lines. By setting the action in Baltimore circa 1843 and with references to locales that are familiar to residents, it's like watching a story that might have been told in one of our existing neighborhoods. The color-blind casting is a welcome change. It's good theatre and a nice touch. With a great focus on the characters and some cool special effects the overall production is perfectly paced and the 90 minutes zip by.

Kristina Lambdin has clothed the cast in period perfect costumes from the hats to the shoes and every stitch in between. The colors are right out of a, well, a Dickens play. I wasn't crazy about the lighted dress and hair of the Ghost of Christmas Past, but an anachronistic touch or two is totally forgivable. After all, the Ghost of Christmas Present had lights in his fur-trimed robes and head piece, too. The wigs and makeup by Sandy Spence set the costumes off nicely.

Dan O'Brien's sets and lights are a perfect accompaniment to the action and the two story plus set backdrop serves the story exceptionally well.

CSC has assembled a wonderful cast of gifted actors, with the major roles in the capable hands of some of the most stalwart members of the largely resident company. Jose Guzman and Isaiah Harvey are both well cast in all of the multiple roles they play. Other standouts are Kathryne Daniels as various Mrs. (what is the plural of Mrs-s?), and Molly Moores' Mrs. Cratchitt and her excellent narrations. All the rest of the supporting cast do a terrific job as well.

The Ghost of Christmas Present had great comedic timing, The Ghost of Christmas Past had an ephemeral glow and seemed to glide along, and the silent Ghost of Christmas To Come was good, scary fun with those bony appendages and the excessive height. Ooohh...!

Oh, and the kids! One of the most adorable bands of adolescents and younger that I've seen assembled on a stage for a while. If Tiny Tim were any cuter I don't think I could have stood it.

Gregory Burgess takes on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the 7th time with this company. I've seen him in this part before, and yet, this performance seemed entirely fresh. He can be as mean as a junk-yard dog, with a snarl that would make the weak tremble and the strong think twice. Burgess also has an impressive vocal range and can squeal as high as a tweenaged girl or growl as deeply as a grizzly bear.

And his unbridled glee at being given a second chance to change the course of his life's trajectory was a joy to behold.

A nod is also due to the Heart of Maryland Chorus of singers who greeted the pre-show audience with Christmas carols and good humor.

I am a big fan of this company that doesn't stray too far from the classics, filling a niche in the Baltimore Theatre panoply that too often goes ignored. Santa Clause caps off to them all. God bless us one and all for this lovely start to the Holiday Season of theatre.

A Christmas Carol runs from December 3 - December 23 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore. Click here for information and tickets.

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