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Review: MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL at The Seattle Rep

Review: MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL at The Seattle Rep

A seemingly biographical play that never happened … and shouldn’t have.

Review: MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL at The Seattle Rep
Members of the cast of
Mr. Dickens and His Carol at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Lindsay Thomas.

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is an enduring classic. We all know this. It's never been out of publication since its first publishing in 1843. It has spawned numerous movie, TV, and stage adaptations from the serious to the Muppets. Now the Seattle Rep has come along with a World Premiere of Samantha Silva's "Mr. Dickens and His Carol", based on her book of the same name. Taking a supposed look at the creation of this classic tale, this historical fiction is heavy on the fiction and light on the history, cutting a wide swath with its poetic license about the author and turning him into a pompous buffoon in a story and a production in desperate need of an editor.

Silva's fiction starts with the truth that Dickens, a celebrated and successful author, finds his latest book "Martin Chuzzlewit" underperforming in its sales. So much so that his publishers are looking to reduce his monthly income to pay for the poor sales and encourage him to write a Christmas story, as they tended to sell well. And that's where the truth starts to wane. The rest of the play is filled with inanities of Dickens complaining about people demanding money from him, physically turning himself into the likeness of Scrooge to evade his family and creditors, and cheating on his wife several times, turning this beloved author into a philandering, whining, miser.

OK, fine, no one is above parody, but the story and play itself has no idea what story it wants to tell. Act one meanders about, introducing character after character that lend nothing to any assemblance of plot. In fact, it takes an inordinate amount of time introducing his family and then dismisses them for the majority of the play making me wonder why we needed all that exposition about them. Overly complicated seems to be the theme of this show as it keeps trying to turn Dickens into Scrooge and somehow correlate his life during the creation of "A Christmas Carol" with the story itself. Right down to a crutch wielding little boy named Tim and an overly contrived ghost. And then to try and make light of these situations, she insists on throwing in instance after instance where the characters reference Dickens' quotes, titles, and characters in their daily conversation which just felt pandering.

To make matters worse, Silva, whose notes in the program say she's much more experienced with writing screenplays than stage plays, treats the structure of the show like a movie. Way too many locations and characters, forcing director Braden Abraham to include several moments where people wander about the stage on a turntable, saying nothing, to indicate the passage from one place to the next. So many times, in fact, that several moments began to look like montages ... on stage!

Review: MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL at The Seattle Rep
Adam Standley and Basil Harris in
Mr. Dickens and His Carol at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Lindsay Thomas.

The need for an editor of the staging and script extends to the production as well with a set from Scott Bradley that, at first, looked interesting but then felt overly complicated, under thought out, and overdressed. The most egregious point came when we entered Mr. Bumble's (the name of a character from "Oliver Twist") toy shop. Remember it's 1843 but the décor has crates with the Coca-Cola emblem (which wasn't introduced until 1886) and worse, a prominently displayed board game of "The Waltons" TV show. Because the kids in 1843 liked to watch 1970's television shows?!

The cast of Seattle A-listers tries their best with this overblown script, but they look at if they are trying. Adam Standley as Dickens comes off as a one-note fool who doesn't so much grow in the story, as he just prattles until the show is over. An ending that seemed to happen five or six times mind you in this over two-and-a-half-hour play. Other wonderful actors forced into horrible roles include Julie Briskman and Basil Harris in multiple roles trying to keep the levity up and Sunam Ellis whose character seems to be utterly clueless as to how money works. The one moment of sincerity in the show, unsurprisingly, comes from R. Hamilton Wright as Dickens' mooching father.

Overly complicated script, overly complicated staging, and an overly complicated set in a tale that acts like it's history but is definitely not makes this one of the rare severe fumbles from an otherwise solid theater company. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Mr. Dickens and His Carol" an "I guess I'm the Scrooge here", NAH Humbug. A show, based on real people, with not one likable character in the bunch.

"Mr. Dickens and His Carol" performs at the Seattle Rep through December 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.



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From This Author - Jay Irwin

         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting... (read more about this author)


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Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is an enduring classic. We all know this. It’s never been out of publication since its first publishing in 1843. It has spawned numerous movie, TV, and stage adaptations from the serious to the Muppets. Now the Seattle Rep has come along with a World Premiere of Samantha Silva’s “Mr. Dickens and His Carol”, based on her book of the same name. Taking a supposed look at the creation of this classic tale, this historical fiction is heavy on the fiction and light on the history, cutting a wide swath with its poetic license about the author and turning him into a pompous buffoon in a story and a production in desperate need of an editor.