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BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL ONLINE at Trinity Rep sparkles with spirited innovation

Trinity Rep's most recent production of the classic play is a celebration of innovative spirit and holiday cheer.

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL ONLINE at Trinity Rep sparkles with spirited innovation

For longer than I've been alive, Trinity Repertory Company's annual production of A Christmas Carol - the perennial holiday classic by Charles Dickens - has been a Rhode Island holiday tradition. As I'm sure they have for many Rhode Islanders, the play's many productions have become part of my tapestry of holiday memories, as have the countless conversations I've had and overheard each year in the weeks before Christmas, when the first question on everyone's lips usually went something like this: "Did they go traditional this year, or did they decide to experiment?"

This year's A CHRISTMAS CAROL ONLINE - a virtual experiment born out of the company's inspired insistence that this holiday mainstay be kept alive, despite a pandemic that has kept Rhode Island's theaters shuttered since March - does both, bringing invention and tradition together in a celebration of innovative spirit and holiday cheer.

It's a story we all know well. Ebenezer Scrooge (Joe Wilson, Jr.) - a miserly business-owner who resents giving his sole employee (Bob Cratchett, played by Taavon Gamble) a single paid holiday and who scares off charity solicitors (Rebecca Gibel and Rachael Warren) by declaring that the poor would do everyone a favor if they'd die - is visited on Christmas Eve by the tortured ghost of Jacob Marley (Stephen Thorne), his long-dead business partner. Marley warns Scrooge that he'll be joining him in damnation unless the three spirits who will visit Scrooge that night inspire in him a change of heart.

To bring this ages-old story to life for audiences watching from their homes, director Curt Columbus has woven together a myriad of thoughtful filming strategies. The majority of Scrooge's scenes occur with Wilson alone on the Trinity stage - a venue big enough to allow ample distance between him and the crew - with his otherworldly visitors projecting themselves onto a wall of televisions set up behind Scrooge's bed. Other scenes are filmed across well-traveled Providence streets or as a series of video calls (complete with simulated technology glitches).

The show's cozier scenes get especially inventive treatments. The Fezziwig's holiday party is narrated over vintage-style illustrations, and the family gatherings at the homes of Cratchett and Scrooge's nephew, Fred (Rodney Witherspoon), were filmed with actors who are family members or roommates in real life.

As scenes move between these varied formats, the play's cast graces us with the first-rate acting we have all come to expect from Trinity - and have come to miss in the nine months since the company's last performance. Wilson brings a very Dickensian combination of irony and pathos to Scrooge, Thorne menaces as Marley, and Daniel Duque-Estrada brims with quirky effervescence as The Spirit of Christmas, a role encompassing both the Ghost of Christmas Present and the production's present-day narrator, who - in the production's most whimsical touch - breaks the fourth wall to invite children watching at home to create sound effects with household items.

The entire cast performs adroitly within the video format, which captures nuanced shifts in facial expression and voice that can be lost on stage. Indeed, in some moments - like the extreme close-ups of Wilson as he wrestles with the Ghost of Christmas Future's chilling prophecy - the video format offers a unique opportunity to immerse the audience in a character's complex inner world.

In a year when we have lost so much and so many, Trinity Rep's A CHRISTMAS CAROL ONLINE is an inspired holiday transformation that - much like Scrooge's own - feels nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Trinity Rep's free, on-demand streaming production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL ONLINE will be available for unlimited viewing until January 10, 2021 at 11:59 pm. To register to receive access to the video, call the box office at (401) 351-4242 or visit Trinity Rep's website at www.TrinityRep.com.



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From This Author Jessica Tabak