Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS at Olney Theatre

Running through December 31st.

By: Dec. 04, 2023
Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS at Olney Theatre

On December 2nd, Olney Theatre's A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas premiered for this year's holiday season. The classic Dickens' tale is performed, directed, and adapted by Paul Morella, and takes place in the comfortable Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, which functions as a spacious black-box for the theatre. The piece is performed solely by Morella and runs through December 31st. 

The experience begins before the performance even starts. Audience members are given playbill-like pamphlets featuring some great design, and impressive dramaturgical literature. Upon entering the Theater, one is greeted with a display of sorts, featuring a wide variety of objects related to the piece and/or its time, as well as some "Christmas-y" objects. This display hints at the stage design, which gives the audience a first impression of the show. 

Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS at Olney Theatre
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane Photography

The set overflows with all sorts of objects and ephemera; violins, pieces of paper, fire pokers, globes, and an infinite amount of books. While incredibly cluttered and overstimulating, the deliberate choice does set a rather accurate mood for the piece, and the objects seem to be living in the world of A Christmas Carol. The larger set pieces include a cluttered desk and a chair with an ottoman. All pieces are used to their full capacity in creative ways, at times Morella presents the ottoman as a baby, a goose, and even a Christmas pudding. The physical world of the piece just makes sense and is quite an enjoyable aspect of the show. A particular joy is the on-stage lighting, cleverly hidden by open books, as well as Patrick W. Lord's projections, which highlight the journey Morella takes us on. 

And the journey is presented with a preface. At this performance, Morella greeted viewers at the door and then addressed them before the show started. He offered information about the production, explaining how the piece uses about 99% of Dickens' actual words, and is presented how Dickens himself would have, by one person, regaling the tale from start to finish. He also proudly informed the audience that this was the 14th year of this production, which is an impressive feat indeed. The star is clearly proud that this is a very "faithful" and "accurate" production of the piece.

Then, the piece begins. One hesitates to use the word play to describe the performance, not for any negative reason, but because it is not entirely accurate. Olney Theatre doesn't even use the word play, the experience is simply one of being told a story. Morella recites the words, and in doing so embodies all the characters from the tale, using props, light costumes, and lighting (Sonya Dowhaulk), to extenuate, exaggerate, and punctuate. 

Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS at Olney Theatre
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane Photography

Morella is surely an impressive performer and able to retain an audience's attention. He takes on characters of all ages, genders, and classes with dignity and play.  The piece most likely provides a novelty to viewers, who are assuredly familiar with the plot and themes of A Christmas Carol, but perhaps not the original text. 

And the text is the co-star of the piece. One should not go into this performance if they want to or are expecting to see a play. The focus of this experience is on Dickensian literature and the timeless themes it possesses. It is a good foray into that realm of prose, especially if reading the text seems particularly intimidating.  

Other design aspects that color the show are of course the sound (originally designed by Edward Moser and re-mounted by Justin Schmitz) and lighting. As is typical with a black box the space is only so malleable, and so the tight and apt sound and illustrative lighting really help color and grow the world of the piece. 

While engaging and exciting at times, the piece does come in at two hours and is full of "old-timey" language and humor, so there is a possibility of younger theatre-goers getting perhaps a little bored, however, the event does make for a good holiday family outing. 

Morella is clearly in his element with this piece, and his care and admiration for the story are evident through his performance. 

Information on tickets for this show, including sign-interpreted and audio-described performances, can be found on Olney Theater's website. 
 



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