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BWW Review: Olney Theatre Center's A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS Shines Especially Bright This Season!

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A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas plays through December 26.

BWW Review:  Olney Theatre Center's A CHRISTMAS CAROL:  A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS Shines Especially Bright This Season!

Words can't describe the joy and relief of walking into a theatre-any theatre will do, but in this case we're talking about the Mulitz-Gedelsky Theater Lab at Olney, complete with its swanky, new lobby. Paul Morella, the star of the show, greets us all as we enter the house, and in what qualifies as The Best Early Christmas Present Ever, we see a thrust stage decked out with a wide variety of Victorian-style bric-a-brac, strategically tossed about.

Forget the tree and the lights, forget the boxes with tacky wrapping, I'll take the pile of stuff here any time. (OK, as one audience member noted, this Scrooge guy is an appalling pack-rat, but you must admit it's a glorious hoarder's paradise).

After a spartan 2020 holiday season, when we had to settle for Paul Morella's one-man show of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas" online (nicely done, safely watchable at home, but still), we can now reconnect with one of the local institutions that gives the season its special spark.

When-not if, but when-you go to see Morella's annual treat, be sure to help yourself to the laurel-wreathed, burgundy side program, providing you with a wealth of background about Dickens and his times. Because Morella insists on performing "A Christmas Carol" verbatim, and because stopping mid-sentence to give you a footnote on Victorian slang is just downright tacky, it pays to read up a little bit while the lights are still up.

Morella knows the text so intimately that he can give you the full meaning of an expression, which you will appreciate all the more when you understand why-for example-Mrs. Cratchit is in such agony about the aromas she's detected from the brass pot where the Christmas Pudding has been prepared. That, and other gems, are much more resonant if you take the 5 minutes before curtain to read up.

As always, Morella is in complete command of the characters and storyline here; his grating, high-pitched nasal Scrooge is hilarious, and his comic timing with all of Scrooge's miserly retorts is priceless. He runs through all the voices, ages, walks of life with ease, and with the aid of Justin Schmitz's re-boot of Edward Moser's original sound design - and the strategic deployment of that ghostly echo-effect-you are instantly transported from this world to the past, the next, and back.

One of the things you take for granted online, but which becomes vital to the art of storytelling when seen live, is the way that light tells its own story. Sonja Dowhaluk's lighting design can't achieve its effect nearly as well on our wee flat screens at home; only when allowed to breathe free, streaming here, flashing there, can you appreciate what light can do.

Be sure to bring your proof of vaccination-get your booster, and the flu shot too. Come ready to reassure the house managers at Olney that you want everyone to have as safe and healthy a holiday season as possible. And be sure to see Paul Morella's annual tribute to the spirit of the holidays.

Production Photo: Paul Morella in his solo production of "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas." Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with one intermission. (I recommend the locally-brewed IPA at the bar).

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas plays through December 26, at the Mulitz-Gedelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. For tickets call 301-924-3400 or log into: http://www.olneytheatre.org/ .


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