MADISON, NJ - When the spirited production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” begins, you’re inclined to think it’s a comedic take on grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge. But we soon see that the Neil Barlett adaptation of the tale does dwell on the dark side. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has more than done justice to this familiar tale.
Dickens had a way of calling attention to the unfairness of life in Victorian England, the grasping, gaping world of the haves and have nots. Unfortunately, that is still the case today.
A chorus of actors frequently go ‘tick tock,’ denoting the passage of time as Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of past, present and future. Ames Adamson embodies Scrooge with a thoroughly convincing blend of mean spirited attitude and a gradual understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. A number of Shakespeare regulars, besides Adamson (now in his 17th season), include Clark Scott Carmichael as Bob Crachit, Raphael Nash Thompson as Mr. Fezziwig and Alison Weller as Mrs. Fezziwig.
Garrett Lawson as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, nicely displays the young man’s determination to wish Scrooge a ‘Happy Christmas,’ whether the old man likes it or not. The cast also includes Quentin McCuiston, who takes on the role of Tiny Tim, usually played by a child. But this casting works really well as we understand how lives are twisted and shortened because of the near poverty condition of the Crachit family. And we hear Tim say, “God bless us, every one” so much more meaningful that simply blending the phrase into ‘’everyone.” Others in this strong, fluid cast include Emma O’Donnell, Lindsay Smiling, Emily Michelle Walton and Billie Wyatt.
Director Brian B. Crowe has kept this story moving along while paying attention to the details that establish mood, time and place. Summer Lee Jack’s costumes augment the period, especially the lovely gowns at Fred’s ‘yes and no’ games, contrasting with the rags of the homeless. Each of the spirits manifests the dreamlike quality of an endless night. The ghost of Christmas Future is especially eerie, looming over all in a dark shroud.
Dick Block’s smooth and moveable scenic design serves the production well, while lighting by Andrew Hungerford and sound by Steven L. Beckel enhance the shifting scene. Music director Robert Long has infused the play with a kind of caroling motif that moves it forward.
You may feel you’ve seen “A Christmas Carol” once too often, but this production is full of surprises that bring the story to life in a vivid, memorable way.
Performances continue through De. 29 at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.