Review: The Re-Imagined Beauty of New Ohio Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL

By: Dec. 23, 2016

There are so many different ways, so many diverse approaches to telling a story, that it is almost impossible to see the same thing twice. Movies, on stage and in books, similar themes are everywhere, each with hints of their creator's unique style to separate them from the rest. To me, one of the most important things of a plot or performance is how it makes you feel - how the darkness of a plot and the lessons to be learned therein are there, no matter how a story is presented - how you walk away from a story with a lasting impression that sometimes can't be explained. How, for whatever reason, a man's suffering and metaphorical revival can so affect us all to be happy about the world and how we are so capable of changing it.

The New Ohio Theatre's re-imagining of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol keeps the spirit of Dickens alive while bringing us all a reason to be grateful that this production is now playing over in the West Village.

Adapted by Matt Opatrny and directed/choreographed by Jessica Burr, the eleven-member troupe Blessed Unrest recently opened A Christmas Carol at the New Ohio Theatre. This "theatre for the adventurous" comprised of a diverse ensemble that brings new and bold productions to NY audiences, brings a unique and surprising experience to those expecting a traditional retelling of Dickens' novella. So saying, this is a tasteful yet eclectic and unique experience indeed; Opatrny and Burr prove that they understood the true essence of the original story while also showing that they clearly had a wonderful time bringing their creative vision to life. By recreating a story people know so well and adding modern elements to it (cue the Lady Gaga dance party), cross-dressing characters and basically test how far one can artistically go while keeping in sync with the motion of the original story. Blessed Unrest has given us quite a production to talk about, and it is equally charming as it is intriguing.

A Christmas Carol is the heartwarming story with a not so poignant start. Ebenezer Scrooge is the sole survivor proprietor of what used to be a business partnership with the late Jacob Marley, now seven years deceased. Stingy and miserable, a longer and not the kindest of men, Scrooge considers the Christmas season as simply days on which he has little reason to be merry - days on he must sacrifice his precious work in order to observe a holiday that hasn't the least bit time for or interest in. Rejecting all of those who seek his help or company, he is content with what he believes his modest and acceptable loneliness and remains indifferent to how festive those around him are - those who have but little, but much to live for. Scrooge is soon visited by Marley's ghost, who warns him of three spirits that will visit and compel him to change his miserable ways before it is too late.

It is truly a beautiful story, and Blessed Unrest's production brings forth the plot's heartwarming nature with such fervor, incorporating into it a bit of laughter and spirit that, although expressed in ways Dickens might not have foretold, brings this story to new life...much in the same way Scrooge has his own moments of revelation.

I very much enjoy watching theater groups incorporate new elements into stories everyone is familiar with and expects to see replicated in the fashion they have always known. Just observing how certain moments within this particular show are shown humor where humor or wit is certainly due - where a certain mood is temporarily cast away and a reprieve is given from the somber scene being performed (take, for example, when Tiny Tim's family is sitting at the table for Christmas dinner and Scrooge, who is there but not really there, tries to interrupt the moment).

What a show like this does is take the opportunity for enhancing the story in ways people would not think of, but in which the opportunity is definitely there to take advantage of. It's like people's inherent nature of making somber things more comfortable by adding a certain lightheartedness to them, without losing the true meaning of what is going on. I very much enjoyed the unique way this adaptation was written, as it is clever...and I like clever.

J. Stephen Brantley as Scrooge is joined by a superbly talented ensemble consisting of Claire Fort, Tatyana Kot, Becca Schneider, Nathan Richard Wagner and Joshua Wynter to create a world Dickens would have just about recognized. Using their talents to bring numerous characters to life and their bodies to work with and as set so that the point being made is more important when suspension of belief is used, they exert themselves to make this show happen (literally - there is a lot of running going on), and their efforts are duly noted.

Joining this cast are Summer Lee Jack and Rebecca Welles as Costume Designerss, Jay Ryan on light design, Sam Kusnetz and Beth Lake on sound deign, Matt Opatrny and NeAl Wilkinson on set/props and Darielle Shandler/Nancy Monahan as stage managers.

A Christmas Carol is already a wonderful story in itself, especially for this time of year, but when it is brought to new life in interesting ways that simply work, with a dedicated cast and crew that have put something innovative together, it is undoubtedly worth the investment and time. Judging by the full house there opening night, I would imagine people feel the same way. So if you are looking for a show to see this holiday season, consider Blessed Unrest's new production because, as I said in the beginning, a show is only as good as it makes people fee; this will definitely leave you feeling pretty good that you came.

A Christmas Carol began performances at the New Ohio Theatre (located at 154 Christopher Street) on December 21st and will continue thru December 31st. The performance schedule is as follows: Wednesday thru Friday (21st-23rd) @ 7:30 pm, December 23rd @ 3:00 pm, December 24th @ 2:00 pm, Monday thru Friday (26th-30th) @ 7:30 pm and Saturday the 31st @ 3:00 pm. All tickets are $25 and seating is general admission.

Enjoy the show!

Photos by Alan Roche