Review By Joe Eriole
Even the most beautiful things in our midst can fall prey to the curse of the familiar. This may be especially true where the wondrous thing seems to have been with us forever, and we observe it from a vantage point obscured by the false certainty of the modern world. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol may well have slipped into that place in our collective consciousness. We know it so well, we think, that we watch it, if we watch it at all, as pure nostalgia. Its themes are plain: live a better life, appreciate your blessings and spread them abroad…just in case you have to answer for it. The end may come at any time, and not all of us have a ghostly friend like Marley to warn us that we drag a heavy chain of transgressions behind us. These are indeed the headlines. We moderns may be less inclined than our predecessors to believe in the reckoning which turns old Scrooge about, perhaps to our peril; but no matter. It’s a nice idea; we get it…
But, there are numerous reasons why A Christmas Carol should be approached each year with a new and unbiased ear. First, whether one’s goal is to get to Heaven or simply to do no harm while here on earth, the tale of Scrooge & Marley reminds us that what we do impacts others, whether we are conscious of it or not. That being the case, even from a purely utilitarian perspective, doing good makes the world around us a healthier, kinder, and more peaceable place.
Second, no matter what our stance on the afterlife is, the tale puts us in touch with everything we love about the Season, and everything which so many find bleak and hopeless about it, all at once. Even the smallest acts of kindness are amplified to provide sustenance in mind and body, and this applies to both the benefactor and the beneficiary. Likewise, to the oppressed and the melancholy, the joy attending Christmas serves as a reminder of happiness they cannot access – Scrooge cannot pinpoint the moment when he crossed the line to the camp of those in pain, but his isolation is his daily reminder that he has certainly done so.
And, third, there is the sheer beauty of the language of the 19th century and of Mr. Dickens at the height of his craft.
It is at this perfect intersection of the most laudable aspirations of the Christian era (“Peace on Earth, Good Will to men”), the high language of 19th Century literature in the hands of one of its masters, and the nostalgia attaching to the accoutrements of the Season from our youth, that A Christmas Carol lives, and that is why it will always be central to the celebration of Christmas.
This precise admixture of elements make the Radio Play format the perfect way to experience the familiar this year. Director Teresa Gasparini’s adaptation for Clove Creek Dinner Theater is true to both Dickens’ original language and the 1940’s heyday of radio programming. For that reason, the experience is auditory above all else; we must listen. Listening intently results in a new experience of the familiar; the language is beautiful, the sentiment strongly conveyed by the “radio personalities,” and even the radio show format has the unique charm of another bygone era, which feels nearly as distant now as Dickens’ London. Ms. Gasparini has even put the intrepid Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s stage manager Katherine Abell on stage in period dress as the studio’s Foley artist, providing sound effects throughout the presentation in the style of the old-fashioned crackle-laden shows. Ms. Abell does not disappoint in giving the audience everything from Marley’s clanking chains to the opening and shutting of doors and the time-warping sound of ghostly visions past, present and future.
The preeminence of the listening experience notwithstanding, due attention has been paid by Ms. Gasparini to the costuming of the cast and the dressing of the set in the style of the radio voices they are playing. From holiday dresses to Victory-roll hairstyles for the ladies, to bow ties, suspenders and high-waisted slacks for the gentlemen, the iconic look of the set and the actors are a pleasure. Completing the look and feel of the production are Ms. Gasparini’s radioland-style commercials for the show’s actual sponsors.
The “tight-fisted, hand at the grindstone” Scrooge is well played by Jeff Scully, who imbues Scrooge with all the crotchety indifference the early frames require, as well as a dramatic and deeply effective portrayal of his sadness and pleas for a chance at redemption.
Apart from Scrooge, all the actors play numerous roles, and each present their differing characters with a wide range of age-appropriate voice and accent talents. The effect is never confusing, and indeed, often integral to the entirely amusing quality of the show. The ensemble cast of Patrick Spaulding, Brendan Jennings, Steven Bendler, Aaron-Noel Treppeda, and Louisa Vilardi, each turn in truly charming performances, and all of them have moments of real connection to the language of the story and the audience. Gabriella Fryer’s musical direction is in equal measure lovely supporting interludes in the classic and authentic style of the radio era, and traditional Christmas Carols which add to the ambiance of the play and the Season.
The adaptation is presented at a lively one-act pace, after a good dinner complemented by attentive and friendly service. The evening concludes with a heartwarming Christmas sing-along, in which even the least nostalgic attendee will participate with a smile, and a traditional holiday send-off written by Ms. Gasparini which will do much to melt any icy heart.
When Scrooge is confronted by one vignette of his Christmas past, his ghostly companion, noting the emergence of a tear on his cheek, asks, “Your lip is trembling. And what is that upon your cheek?” Scrooge, not quite ready for the catharsis that will soon follow, denies it is anything at all. In Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s A Christmas Carol, you will be drawn into your own Christmas pasts, and you may find something has appeared on your cheek as well. Don’t wait as long as Scrooge to acknowledge what it really is – Christmas, past, present and future have come to claim you again. May it be said of us, that we “knew how to keep Christmas well.” A fresh ear for Clove Creek’s A Christmas Carol will be a fine start.
A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play shows for one more weekend at Clove Creek Dinner Theater. Tickets can be reserved online at http://www.clovecreekdinnertheater.com or by calling the box office at 845.202.7778.