BWW Review: Contemporary Theater Delivers Delightfully Fresh A CHRISTMAS CAROL

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BWW Review: Contemporary Theater Delivers Delightfully Fresh A CHRISTMAS CAROL

In the 175 years since Charles Dickens penned "A Christmas Carol," there have been countless productions, featuring everyone from Patrick Stewart to Mr. Magoo. The Contemporary Theater Company (CTC) of Wakefield, RI has managed a holiday miracle: a highly theatrical version, enjoyable by the whole family, which manages to be both warm and seasonal as well as sharp and intelligent.

Much of the credit goes to the adaptation, written for the CTC production by Matt Fraza, who also plays Scrooge. Dickens is a surprisingly modern writer, and his message aimed at heartless self-absorbed hoarders who create their own world of misery is certainly timeless. Fraza has found nuggets of language in Dickens not rubbed smooth by long repetition. Unless you've read the story recently, you'll find every scene has a phrase or two that offers a fresh "aha" moment.

The staging, a three-quarter round in the CTC's hundred-seat black box theater, makes excellent use of a handful of desks, a rotating bed, a pot bellied stove, and a few chairs whisked on and off. Charlie Santos' direction is crisp and well-paced, with strong performances coached from the whole ensemble, and excellent choices in movement that use the apron, aisles, and audience space to powerful effect.

All the standard setpieces are here: the cold, spare office of Scrooge and Crachit. The classic imprecation "Bah, Humbug." Marley in chains. Visitation by spirits. The tragedy of Tiny Tim. An exuberant Scrooge redeemed. But Fraza's script breathes fresh life into what are often timeworn beats.

And Fraza, as Scrooge, offers a thoughtful, nuanced characterization, with his dawning awareness of his own predicament - and his impact on others - vividly realized. Philip Riely's Cratchit is a nervous cipher at the office who comes alive with his family. Laura Kennedy is a standout, showing authentic depths of anger and sadness as Mrs. Crachit. Jacob Marley's ghost is played with dour clanking vigor by Rich Morra. And Ashley Macamaux has a great deal of broad, brash fun as Scrooge's nephew Fred.

The visitation by the three spirits offers powerful moments. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Ezra Jordan, is reserved and spooky. Winfield Swanson as the Ghost of Christmas Present does a great transition from regal to decrepit, and the surprise appearance of the "children of the times," Ignorance and Want, is chilling. In a wonderfully theatrical conceit, Jenny Collins, as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, while mute, guides Scrooge through the future by playing breathy notes on a trumpet. This may sound strange, but it works surprisingly well.

Music is an integral part of the production. Pianist/music director Jean Maxon Carpenter and harp/violinist Catherine LiVolsi provide soft Christmas-themed accompaniment under much of the action. It's subtle, effective scene-setting that is well thought out and never intrusive. It also makes more natural the several points in the show where the ensemble gathers to sing a carol, and offers a smooth transition to the big song and dance of Fezziwig's party. During intermission, a group of CTC players take the stage to sing Christmas carols, and opening night featured Sophie Pearson (fresh from her run as Audrey in CTC's "Little Shop of Horrors") as guest soloist.

Max Delemontex should get a nod as "Kid Wrangler" for a great job with the nine energetic and talented middle schoolers who comprise the Crachit household. The lighting design by Maggie Cady adds powerful effects (like Marley's appearance) and also exceptionally good separation for action done down on the apron. While the sound design is spare (Marley's chains, a heartbeat on the appearance of Scrooge's body) it is very effective. And the period costuming, by Stephanie Traversa, is well executed.

It is said that Dickens chose the title "A Christmas Carol in Prose" because he hoped his story would become just that: a perennial, to be retold every holiday season. He certainly got his wish: half the theaters in London did productions the year after it was published - all pirated. This version at the Contemporary does Dickens justice, spotlighting the heart of his message, and providing a fresh setting that is both family entertainment and a satisfying evening of theatre.

A Christmas Carol, based on the novel by Charles Dickens, adapted by Matthew Fraza. Performances: Dec 7-8, 13-15, 21-22 at 7 pm, Dec 9, 16 at 2 pm. Tickets: Adult - $25, Student - $15, Senior Day Sunday - $18.
Box Office: 401-218-0282,
The Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main Street, Wakefield, RI 02879

Photo credit: Seth Jacobson Photography

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From This Author John McDaid