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Review: One Actor, 25 Characters Bring Alive A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Ridgefield Theater Barn

Patrick Spaddacino adapted and stars in a 90-minute staging of Dickens' immortal novella, which can be streamed through Jan. 1, 2021

Review: One Actor, 25 Characters Bring Alive 
A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Ridgefield Theater Barn
Patrick Spadaccino plays Scrooge and 24 other characters in A Christmas Carol, at Ridgefield Theater Barn, available via video stream through Jan. 1. Photo: Anna Zuckerman-Vdovenko

Picture an unapologetic misanthrope who is mad at the world, isn't into empathy, and never met a man he didn't berate. At Christmastime, the season of spreading cheer, he's none too happily spreading jeers.

That might bring to mind a contemporary figure or three, but, for our purposes, it describes a character who came to life 177 years ago.

It was on Dec. 19, 1843, that the publication of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol introduced Ebenezer Scrooge as the archetype of a pointedly petty and penurious person.

His infamous bile is on full display at Ridgefield Theater Barn, where Patrick Spadaccino is regaling audiences with his one-man stage adaptation of the Dickens novella. (Details follow below on tickets to see in-person or streaming performances.)

The well-known twist to this timeless tale of villainy is that, in the end, Scrooge's petulance is alchemized into penitence and goodness. It's as if Dickens foretold what later would become the obligatory happy "Hollywood ending."

Scrooge's guilt complex conjures apparitions of past, present and future who deliver his comeuppance ... and, in a Disneyesque coda, they all live happily ever after. But not before Dickens dispenses some strong doses of morality -- through sympathetic characters like Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim -- that chasten his anti-hero even as they remind the rest of us that bad behavior is both unacceptable and changeable.

Actors agree that the two greatest roles in the canon are Shakespeare's King Lear and Arthur Miller's Willy Loman. In his own inimitable way, Scrooge also is catnip for thespians. Why else would talents as disparate as Lionel Barrymore and Jim Carrey be eager to essay the role (as director Scott R. Brill points out in his voluble program notes).

For added measure, Mr. Spadaccino takes on not only Mr. Scrooge but two dozen other Dickensian characters.

There effectively are two shows playing at the cabaret-style Theater Barn (which is just about the coolest and classiest black box venue around, managed with a lot of savvy).

One show is the Dickens parable, teaching us it's never too late to mend our ways; it takes no more effort to be kind than to be cruel, to live the Golden Rule.

The other show we're treated to is Mr. Spadaccino single-handedly inhabiting a colorful assortment of people, segueing from one persona to the next smoothly, advancing the plot with a purposeful pace.

There is his technical achievement, to be sure, of memorizing 90 minutes of dialogue-as-monologue, a formidable feat of painstaking preparation and focus.

But there's also the entertaining technique of one actor creating a conversation of rapid-fire repartee between two or more distinct voices.

When the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Marley shows up to apprise him of the three visitations coming his way, if you close your eyes, Mr. Spaddacino would have you believing there were two actors on stage. It's a lot of fun to watch -- and hear.

Mr. Spaddacino has a lot of technical and creative support to help him bring alive the Dickens holiday evergreen.

The atmospheric music is composed by Nick Bicat, who scored the 1984 film version of A Christmas Carol, starring force of nature George C. Scott. It is used throughout here to great effect, as are the imaginative sound effects designed by stage manager Matt Austin. Film design (virtual) is by Katherine Ray.

Scrooge's period wardrobe is varied and suitably authentic, with some selective costume changes on stage that are a seamless part of the show's flow. Kudos to costume designer Renee Purdy (in partnership with The Warner Theater).

The simple set is as serviceable as it is austere, and the lighting (Matt Pagliaro) is appropriate to the Dickensian mise en scene that has been created by director (and set designer) Scott R. Brill, who orchestrates all the elements with a sure hand and an eye for mood-setting stagecraft.

The show's producer is the wonderfully exuberant Pamme Jones, whose pre-curtain speeches alone are worth the price of admission (no pressure, Pamme!).

Of course, masks are mandatory. The modified seating plan has a reduced number of tables sold as single-unit pods of four seats, at $140 ($35 per seat). They are spaced apart by six feet. Doors open 1/2-hour prior to curtain to allow time for temperature checks and some Covid-related questions.

UPDATE > The production of A Christmas Carol that ran at Ridgefield Theater Barn through Dec. 20 can still be streamed at home through Jan. 1.

Tickets to watch a recorded performance by streaming it on a digital device are $20. For information > A nicely packaged, informative program is sent to home viewers in PDF form.

I chose to stream the performance. Because the production is designed for a live stage presentation, there are some minor compromises that attend the screen version.

It may differ for other viewers, depending on which technology is used to enjoy the show, but I found the clarity of the dialogue at times affected by the spatial ambience of the room (notably through my TV speakers, so I switched to an iPad and earbuds).

Producer Pamme Jones explained that it's recorded that way by design to recreate the theatrical aural experience at home. Makes sense in theory. In practice ... hmm.

A few times, when stage lighting is dimmed for effect, the screen picture is darker than what the live audience is seeing in the theater.

None of those observations, though, are meant to dim the credit and gratitude that is due Ridgefield Theater Barn for its timely ingenuity and enterprise in mounting this ambitious production under the most extenuating of circumstances.

This jewel of a theater company has performed a considerable community service by bringing live theater out of the cobwebbed wings and back on the boards. It's just the kind of holiday gift we need to wrap a Bah! Humbug! year.

God bless them, and us, everyone.

Note: While we're on the subject, a 60-minute solo show, Mr. Dickens Tells a Christmas Carol, with Michael Muldoon in the title role, is being presented, in the Bronx, for live audiences by M&M Performing Arts through Dec. 20. For information >

From This Author - Bruce Apar

Bruce Apar is principal of boutique marketing agency APAR PR. His career... (read more about this author)

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