BWW Reviews: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Mesmerizes at The Alley
The Alley Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS is not the Christmas Carol story I know and love.
I am something of A Christmas Carol enthusiast. I have seen every movie and TV movie incarnation of the story. I hopped and skipped after jumping to write about not only the Alley Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS, but also the Houston Grand Opera's commissioned premiere operatic production of the story, which opened last weekend. On any given Wednesday, I may sit down with a hot cup of Swiss Miss and let the critically-panned but heartwarming Jim Carrey-helmed, Robert Zemeckis-directed film version of the story restore my soul and fill me to overflowing so I can trudge through another work week.
So I'm sure you can imagine my irrational anger when partway through the first act of the play, I realize that the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are no random ghosts as in the tellings of old. No, rather they are doubles of Ebenezar Scrooge's maltreated debtors. But the monocle scarcely touches the carpet before I understand that this addition of an "are they/aren't they real ghosts" element to the story does not take away from the theatricality of the production.
Have no fear fair audience. You'll still find atmospheric Victorian sets by scenic designer Tony Straiges, Alejo Vietti's elaborate ornate costumes, and dramatic sound design by John Gromada. The plot change does not unfairly ground or overly explicate this ghost drama. That's what I'm here for.
Director James Black achieves a moody, compelling production that is able to handle both the bleak and the bountiful moments of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. And the show boasts plenty of Christmas sparkle and shine. Days later, I'm still picking sparkly bits of plastic off my tongue.
The Alley acting troupe has mastered the art of keeping classic material fresh. The performances still packed a punch.
Jeffrey Bean avoids predictability in his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. His choices are still surprising and varied.
The use of actors as a backdrop is a meaningful device that tugged at my flimsy, flimsy heart strings especially when the local area youth are on stage. (Over half of the cast is composed of young actors from the metro area, including Katy, Pearland and Friendswood.) All children are adorable, but ours are the most adorable.
There is a great amount of content in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS capitalizes on that. It dramatizes the struggle for redemption and deliverance from painful pasts. It stresses empathy and compassion for your fellow man. It is an artistic expose? on and critique of economic inequality. Admittedly, the Alley production focuses more on the ghost story and Christmas aspects of the play but, to be fair, this is a very good ghost story. The production, as Dickens might say, "haunt[s] ... pleasantly." Surely, none would "wish to lay it [down]."
A CHRISTMAS CAROL runs at the University of Houston until December 24. For more information visit www.alleytheatre.org.