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BWW Feature: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Virginia Stage Company - A Time for Renewal

Christmas joy shines though with a new vision of A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Patrick Mullins as Scrooge, photo credit: Laura Agudelo
Patrick Mullins as Scrooge, photo credit: Laura Agudelo

Standing atop a simple wooden A-frame ladder, a single actor is filling in the lines on a large stretch of paper. The theater space he is in is exposed and has no masking to cover the grid or cables. We can see everything that is usually tucked away from the sight of the audience: pipe storage, a hydraulic lift. Alone and isolated in a large expanse of air and space, he darkens the areas in between to create the words 'Scrooge and Marley'. The actor is Patrick Mullins and this is preshow business but make no mistake the show has already begun. Coincidentally, Mullins is also the director and adapter of Virginia Stage Company's 2020 offering of A Christmas Carol. Like most regional theaters, this holiday classic has been a tradition for decades at Virginia Stage. Mullins has directed the last 14 varying versions of the Dickens classic. However, this iteration is in stark contrast to previous productions. Each year the performance has been more lavish than the last. Lush Christmas dressing of wreaths and trees on sets that reached the rafters depicting the snowy Victorian London cityscape with Jeni Schaefer's costumes paraded in rich textured fabrics. In tradition, a large cast would be singing carols with all the expected number of cheery children and a proper crutched Cratchit. All that is gone. Mere spirits of memories floating above the stage as their costumes now do. Mullins is not truly alone though. We are there to witness this beautiful new telling and to tell this tale, he is joined by four additional performers: Ryan Clemens, Trezure Coles, Meredith Noël, and Jo'siah Shan on piano and serving as music director.

BWW Feature: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Virginia Stage Company - A Time for Renewal
Meredith Noël as Fred, photo credit VSC

This production keeps the narrative style of the novella at heart. Meredith Noël begins with the familiar opening, declaring what we indeed know to be true: Marley was dead. All the actors are initially masked and remove them at start. Each plays multiple roles throughout as they step quickly in and out of narration. While Mullins, himself, deftly takes on Scrooge. Particularly noteworthy performances stand out for Meredith Noël as Fred, Belle, and Mrs. Cratchit, Trezure Coles beautifully fills in all the blanks from Tiny Tim presented in creeptastic and maybe unnecessary puppet form to my own silly personal favorite, Turkey Boy, and Ryan Clemens as he revives his wonderful version of Jacob Marley, though this time inexplicably masked. No other actor dons one again. All the little questionable things become fleeting thoughts though. They are all absolutely delightful to watch.

BWW Feature: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Virginia Stage Company - A Time for Renewal
Ryan Clemens as Jacob Marley, photo credit VSC

There is joyous singing by all and live piano accompaniment from Jo'siah Shan situated in the coveted box seats of the historical Wells. Not to spoil it, but some song choices are a delightful and unexpected surprise. Akin Ritchie's light design is both isolating and inviting at the right times. We are at one moment completely unnerved by a flash of a massive shadow cast upon the bare brick wall and at another warmed by a very distant but loving Cratchit Christmas feast. However, there is always something looming in the air. An inescapable, overwhelming feeling that something is right at your shoulder. When Scrooge is alone you feel it and this may be the closest I have ever felt to experiencing his terror. We are reminded that this is a ghost story after all and I am reminded of my own childlike fears of things that go bump in the night. I am also reminded of my very adult fears.

BWW Feature: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Virginia Stage Company - A Time for Renewal
Patrick Mullins as Scrooge, photo credit VSC

The notion of sitting in a theater to watch a performance, after nearly a year of it being an impossibility to do so, seemed ridiculous, particularly in December of 2020. Virginia Stage has in previous years been at maximum seating capacity for this holiday production but this year there is, at most, 100 masked patrons speckled throughout this 600+ seat house. Here we are alone together. Together, alone. We are edging into a new realm of live performance experiences. The staff has taken many evident safety precautions to accommodate foot traffic and has stated they have implemented rigorous surface cleaning. I felt as safe there as I have most anywhere else and the thoughtful attention to detail was appreciated.

There is nothing that can replace the feeling of live laughter dissolving into the air or the communal emotion experiencing loss and renewal. This is not A Christmas Carol you have previously come to expect from Virginia Stage but it is A Christmas Carol you need. Whatever the future holds for live performance and specifically at Virginia Stage, I believe that Mullins and leadership have it in their souls to deliver honestly. It is as Scrooge says "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach" ...to each of us.

So indeed, God bless us. Every. One.

You have until the 24th to see it live and the 31st virtually. Presented in collaboration with Norfolk State University and for free by generous sponsorship and support of PNC Bank.

All info can be found at vastage.org

BWW Feature: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Virginia Stage Company - A Time for Renewal


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