by Dakota Antelman
Troy Siebels’ masterpiece production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a show that thrives off of the tradition it cultivates. In 2015, as has been true in years past, A Christmas Carol at the Hanover Theater is a dark holiday fable with a weary looking Ebeneezer Scrooge at its center, and a fantastic compliment of effects surrounding him.
Following the classic plot of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel of the same name, A Christmas Carol tells the story of the workaholic, money obsessed businessman Ebeneezer Scrooge as he wrestles with the seven-year anniversary of the death of his friend Jacob Marley. The Christmas hating Scrooge is visited by ghosts and whisked on a whirlwind tour of his own past, present and future, ultimately embracing feelings of love and whimsy to become a kinder man.
Scrooge (Jeremy Lawrence), even after bashing his well-meaning employee Bob Cratchit (Matty Rickard) for trying to put coal on the fireplace, garners moderate sympathy. Lawrence, whose character rejects his nephew’s invitation to a Christmas party, and later, through the Ghost of Christmas Present (Andrew Crowe), sees his nephew calling him a disagreeable animal at that party, interprets Scrooge as an aging man with unmanageable grief. Rather than playing Scrooge as a two-dimensional pessimist, Lawrence makes Scrooge seem like a victim who is haunted by the choices he made, and the relationships he destroyed. This complicated interpretation of Dickens’ clear cut antagonist is as much the work of Lawrence as it is his director’s. Siebels notoriously reimagines the story of A Christmas Carol every year. With that, the script his actors work from changes. This year, the play itself opens with an eerie scene in which priests chant a Latin poem. This segues into the opening scene of the play, in which Cratchit clashes with Scrooge over whether or not to start a bigger fire. Nevertheless, the tension between Cratchit and Scrooge is underplayed, leaving time and space for Scrooge to begin his dramatic interaction with the ghosts.
Once that begins, Lawrence screams through his character’s gravely accent both words of confusion as well as desperate pleas to the spirits to show him no more of his past. When looking back on moments in his past where his young self (Antonio Weissinger) befriended the young Belle (Lea Nardi), Scrooge looks to be on the verge of tears. It is during these scenes where he enters his loudest pleas to be left alone. This sets up a fiery exchange between him and the Ghost of Christmas Past (Tori Heinlein), in which Heinlein storms out of the scene with a “Don’t shoot the messenger” type of outburst directed at Scrooge.
Scrooge’s moments of tension rarely occur alone. The Ghost of Jacob Marley (Marc Geller) is an angry character who often shouts at Scrooge, setting Lawrence up to captivate the audience with moments of fear and weakness when presented with the torture that Marley and his infamous chains represent. Geller, who delivers his performance from atop the bed frame in Scrooge’s bedroom, talks down to Lawrence, making the man who seemed big and powerful when he bullied Cratchit, seem small and insignificant when faced with Marley’s warning.
Bill Mootos, who plays Timothy and serves as one of several narrators, delivers lines plucked directly from Dickens’ original text with diction and intrigue. His presence, combined with the selectiveness of these lines chosen by Siebels, makes these excerpts of 1860’s prose tasteful accessories, rather than an overpowering force to the scenes they describe. The iconic, “Spirit, show me no more,” line is among the most widely quoted lines in Motoos’ dialogue. Mootos shouts it with regularity.
Mootos’ enunciation is even more appreciated given minor technical issues that seem to drag on throughout the show. The sound and amplification aspects of the show seem to lag, with actors’ microphones periodically failing during scenes. In much of Act One in particular, Lawrence’s voice sounds muffled, detracting noticeably from the nuances his accent and inflection provide. Independent of actors’ microphones, lack of sound effects seem to break the illusion some of this show’s more dramatic scenes seek to maintain. When the Ghost of Jacob Marley first enters, loud and distinctly metallic bangs perfectly accompany his chains striking the stage. But as the scene progresses, and Marley jumps around the set, these sounds are absent. What are meant to be perceived as heavy steel chains are seen and heard as foam when, for instance, Marley leaps from the top of Scrooge’s bed post and lands with a dull thud.
The show makes up for these minor shortfalls, however, with its astonishing visual effects. Fog is omnipresent on the stage. It gushes into scenes from machines hidden along the catwalk, and creates an evolving cloud of grey that both hangs eerily at the actors’ shoe tops and shoots in dramatic tendrils back towards the ceiling and out into the audience. Lawrence, though sometimes obscured by this thick fog, manages the effects well, relying on his telling voice to convey the feelings of fear that mesh perfectly with the fog.
In the climactic scene presented by the Ghost of Christmas Future, all the fantastic elements of this show come together. The Ghost himself is a mechanical giant that towers over Scrooge and the sets themselves. The Ghost performs his scene without speaking, pointing towards vignettes describing the hypothetical death of Scrooge as thunder echoes, lighting flashes, and titanic waves of fog crash onto the set.
But in due time, the fog diffuses into the vast auditorium, the Ghost of Christmas Future exits, and Scrooge is left to realize his triumphant rebirth as a happy man with a family he has discovered love for, and wealth of money he generously donates to those he once turned away. Lawrence, who plays Scrooge as a fearful, angry, and at times also confused, character, has no trouble adding another layer to Scrooge’s personality — a happy one. Lawrence joins in classic carols and bids the audience goodbye when he and the rest of the cast wave to the crowd as the curtain falls and a grand white organ ascends from the orchestra to play.
Overall, A Christmas Carol at the Hanover Theatre is a locally sourced gem of a theater show. It swirls fear, flair, and fantasy into an encapsulating production that makes Dickens’ 172 year old story seem brand new.