BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Brings Comfort and Joy at Iowa Stage Theatre Company
Iowa Stage Theatre Company's production of Charles Dickens' classic and timeless tale, A Christmas Carol, has arrived at the Kum and Go Theater at the Des Moines Social Club, playing now through December 23rd.
A charming and intimate venue, the company set the tone of holiday magic, Christmas trees lighting the pathway to the theatre, warm greetings from ushers and staff and sweet tones of classical piano lingering in the air against a backdrop of Victorian London, complete with fog. The show opened simply with members of the ensemble cast meeting on stage, joining in a solemn chorus of "God rest ye merry gentlemen", their Victorian silhouettes creating a scene worthy of a Christmas card. Their voices echoed with well wishes of "comfort and joy" as the torch was passed to a narrative voice who intoned Dickens' well-loved words, pulling us far away from 2017.
As I sat in the theatre, remembering the many incarnations of A Christmas Carol I had experienced on stage and screen, I reflected on the greater meaning of the story while looking around at a diverse crowd of faces taking in the beloved tale, some for the first time and some of whom knew every word. It is in the lyrics of that first Dickensian era carol which so rightly began this production where we find the clue to why this story is an annual tradition. Comfort and joy. The comfort of seeing a tale we know so well, hearing those familiar words, the joy of witnessing redemption and change. Dickens wraps us up in the warmth of something familiar while asking us to deeply consider our own contribution to humanity, examining what might have been had we acted differently in the past and what could be if we choose to be compassionate toward and consider the plights of others.
Iowa Stage skillfully brings the story to life with an impressive ensemble cast, each of whom wears many hats throughout the performance, literally and figuratively. Richard Maynard is exactly the Scrooge you would hope for, miserly and miserable, a shadowy, chilling figure you would not wish to darken your doorway. He at once is both terrifying and delightful in his characterization and takes the audience on a smartly crafted journey, the ultimate pay off, as with any version of this beloved holiday favorite, when we see an old grump of a man transform before our eyes into a cooing, giggling baby, a surprisingly buoyant moment from Maynard's Ebenezer. Scrooge's misery is self-imposed and it is an important lesson to observe his transformation, the ice melting from his heart as we warm to his bubbling new visage.
The Dickens parable is adapted for the stage by Larry Carpenter, presented in a meaningful, family-friendly, production cleverly directed by Matt McIver with handsome scenic and lighting design by Jay Jagim and fine-tuned music direction by Adam Yankowy.
"Love and joy come to you", and come to you it may if you have the chance to join Iowa Stage Theatre Company as they bring 2017 to a close with A Christmas Carol. In this digital age as we increasingly turn to our screens for happy endorphins, the holidays are the perfect time to partake in the unforgettable joy and magic of sharing live arts with loved ones.
Photo Credit: Iowa Stage Theatre Company, Richard Maynard as Scrooge