BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Orlando Shakes
The traditional and beloved tale of greed, reflection, and redemption in the wake of the Christmas season recently hit the stage at Orlando Shakes this past weekend-and no, it's not the tale of the Grinch. Whether you're a seasoned Charles Dickens fan, entirely versed in his holiday classic, "A Christmas Carol" and the lessons it brings every year, or you're introducing someone new to the story, you might just find that Orlando Shakes' take on the story deserves a spot amongst your own family traditions.
Set in the quaint and masterfully designed attic of a Victorian Era family's home, director Kristin Clippard's unique storytelling experience of "A Christmas Carol" places the audience alongside the family as they tell the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (played by the convincing Steven Patterson) to their youngest child. The narration effect we have with the family is done with such subtlety that you easily find yourself slipping into the story as the family members assume the familiar roles of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and many others.
The scenery of the attic also plays well into the creative storytelling approach that the play carries-starting with a family entering into their attic through a beautifully crafted stairwell entrance designed out of a trap door in the floor of the stage.
It's little details such as the stairwell's versatility (seen later on in the entrance of Scrooge's ghastly partner, Marley), to the boxes and trunks placed around the stage that reveal various props as the story unfolds, that truly bring the characters and the setting to life.
Although Patterson needs very little in terms of props to bring out the fear and unease that Scrooge evokes in those around him, there is one additional creative decision that deserves recognition-the costuming, designed by Mel Barger. The colorfully crafted clothing of the cast immediately and brightly contrasts the dark attire of Scrooge. Not only does it serve as a clear visual representation of the darkness within Scrooge, but it also plays to Patterson's hardened and cold demeanor that brings a chill across each scene early in the story.
Jim Sorensen serves as one of the brighter figures of our dark Christmas tale-the hopeful Bob Cratchit. Cratchit is Scrooge's overworked, yet entirely cheerful and spirited, employee who struggles to support his family and ailing child, Tiny Tim (played by Sebastian Cranford). Sorensen draws emotion from every scene and is our living beacon of hope in the face of life's harshest adversities.
Perhaps the show's greatest scene stealer was Paul Bernardo in his role of Marley. There are few moments or scenes that have forced me to lower my pen and simply take in the pure theatrical power gracing the stage, and Bernardo commanded my full attention during his time on stage through his absolutely captivating-and ultimately heartbreaking-performance. (Not to mention, he very clearly spooked the children behind me who had to be reassured that he was merely an actor on stage and not an actual spectre.)
Each Ghost throughout the show marvelously carried the story along, however, there was one clunky moment on stage that pulled me from the performance a bit near the end of Scrooge's strenuous journey. The dark figure that served as the Ghost of Christmas Future loomed large over the stage and easily grabbed your attention, but the puppet itself almost felt obsolete in moments-perhaps due to limited mobility because of its bulky appearance, though still wrangled well by Daniel Romano.
Despite the ghost's disconnected actions, the looming darkness and dreadful news it presents to Scrooge still manifested well on stage. But fear not, our hopeful message that we cling to following Scrooge's painfully long Christmas Eve still rings through clearly.
From being drawn into the home of the family narrating the story, to being transported into Dickens' tale, the cast smoothly carries the story with their emotion on their sleeves. A storytelling experience unlike others that have been presented at Orlando Shakes, "A Christmas Carol" can easily entertain the entire family while spreading a clear message of hope and absolution during the holiday season.