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Centre Stage: A Christmas Carol

In Play Reviews on December 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

A Review

centre stage christmas

The art of story telling has evolved so much since the grunting cavemen around a fire, and I think it is because we all cling so desperately to them – to stories. Whether it is simply the relating of a personal experience to a friend, or the epic staging of some grand spectacle, we are moved by narrative, and we crave that movement. Around this time of year especially, very specific stories touch us in perhaps more endearing, nostalgic, and human ways than others. This is why I applaud our very own Upstate’s Centre Stage and their hard work in bringing to life this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

To begin with, Marley was dead. But Marley was by far the only thing “dead” about this reader’s theatre take on Ebeneezer Scrooge and his episodic path to human kindness and neighborly love. The label “reader’s theatre” perhaps conjures a plethora of ideas and images into people’s heads. There’s the traditional bare stage with stools, stands, and a monochromatic cast literally reading a play’s text aloud to an audience on one end of the spectrum, and then there’s the fully costumed  and cast, off-book staging of a play incorporating a full range of spectacle grade effects. This “Christmas Carol,” artfully directed by Kerrie Seymour, lands comfortably in the middle like a warm helping of figgy pudding.

The stage was mostly bare, but otherwise cluttered haphazardly with  barrels, crates, boxes, clothes racks, and a smattering of props. The atmosphere was unapologetically theatrical. This was a functional environment, giving the 5 actors the much needed versatility to perform 35 different characters. During the pre-show, the actors walk out and adjust the various pieces and props. One picks up some bells, climbs to the top of the seating and “tests” them with several chimes, while another stacks some crates and opens a ledger on top of them to create a sort of desk. Soon, Ebeneezer’s counting house imaginatively appears  before you. This type of fluid plasticity, if you will, permeated the show, allowing for scenes to seamlessly transition from one to the next, and encourage the power of the imagination to fill in the blanks. It was awesome. My imagination will create a much cooler Victorian London then a designer with a million dollar budget ever will.

The acting was top notch all around. Matt Reece played Ebeneezer Scrooge while David Bean, DeAna Earl, Phyllis Jackson, and Jason D. Johnson skillfully tackled the other 34 characters in this adaptation. Just like the space, the actors themselves were incredibly versatile. They skillfully made each character distinct and unique, so there was never any confusion as to who was who, or what was what. Matt Reece showed some remarkable range in his portrayal of Scrooge. From humbug to remorse, from remorse to reversal, Reece played a believable Ebeneezer. He had an endearing pessimism that drew you to him – which of course underwent some sincere transition before the end of the show.

The play itself, adapted by Patrick Barlow,  was an enjoyable adaptation, to be sure. The pacing was quick and engaging -especially in the first half of the show. I will say there were moments towards the end of the play where I felt some of the dramatic conventions were slightly contrived. This made the end seem unnecessarily drawn out, though only slightly. That is to say, I was brought out of the story some  by certain choices made. It was very clear, however, these choices were intentional, I merely found them to be a tad distracting. The language was simple and fluid, yet not too far removed from the imagery of Dickens. The story itself was perhaps abbreviated – to some extent, but not so much so as to detract. The characters were iconically endearing and enjoyable – even if several of them had much less time to develop. And the overall flow of the show built very nicely to a series of climactic points which drove the the show home.

In conclusion, Centre Stage’s “A Christmas Carol” is wrapped in warmth and holiday cheer, and serves as a festive reminder to think of others during this holiday season. The show runs through next Saturday, so be sure to get your tickets here, and watch Other Vision Studio’s short teaser here!


DSC_0260-2 ~by Johnathan Schofield