Picture an unapologetic misanthrope who is mad at the world, isn’t into empathy, and never met a man he didn’t berate. At Christmastime, the season of spreading cheer, he’s none too happily spreading jeers.
That might bring to mind a contemporary figure or three, but, for our purposes, it describes a character who came to life 177 years ago.
It was on Dec. 19, 1843, that the publication of Charles Dickens’s
“A Christmas Carol” introduced Ebenezer Scrooge as the archetype of a pointedly petty and penurious person.
His infamous bile is on full display at Ridgefield Theater Barn, where Patrick Spadaccino is regaling audiences with his one-man stage adaptation of the Dickens novella. (Details follow below on tickets to see in-person or streaming performances.)
The well-known twist to this timeless tale of villainy is that, in the end, Scrooge’s petulance is alchemized into penitence and goodness. It’s as if Dickens foretold what later would become the obligatory happy “Hollywood ending.”
BREAKING BAD BEHAVIOR
Scrooge’s guilt complex conjures apparitions of past, present, and future who deliver his comeuppance ... and, in a Disneyesque coda, they all live happily ever after. But not before Dickens dispenses some strong doses of morality—through sympathetic characters like Bob Cratchit and disabled Tiny Tim—that chasten his anti-hero even as they remind the rest of us that bad behavior is both unacceptable and changeable.
Actors agree that the two greatest roles in the canon are Shakespeare’s King Lear and Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman. In his own inimitable way, Scrooge also is catnip for thespians. Why else would everyone from Lionel Barrymore to Jim Carrey essay the role (as director Scott R. Brill points out in his program notes).
For added measure, Mr. Spadaccino takes on not only Ebenezer but 24 other Dickensian characters.
There effectively are two shows in one playing at the cabaret-style Barn (which is about the coolest intimate theater space around).
One show is the Dickens parable, teaching us it’s never too late to mend our ways; it takes no more effort to be kind than to be cruel, to live the Golden Rule.
The other show we’re treated to is Mr. Spadaccino single-handedly inhabiting a sizable cast of characters, segueing from one to the next smoothly, advancing the plot with a purposeful pace.
There is his technical achievement, to be sure, of memorizing 90 minutes of dialogue-as-monologue, a formidable feat of painstaking preparation and focus.
But there’s also the entertaining technique of one actor creating a conversation of rapid-fire repartee between two or more characters.
When the ghost of Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley, shows up to apprise him of the three visitations coming his way, if you close your eyes, Mr. Spaddacino would have you believing there were two actors on stage. It’s a lot of fun to watch—and hear.
Mr. Spaddacino has a lot of technical and creative support to help him bring alive this Dickens holiday evergreen.
The atmospheric music is composed by Nick Bicat, who scored the 1984 film version starring George C. Scott. It is used throughout here to great effect, as are the imaginative sound effects designed by stage manager Matt Austin. Film design (virtual) is by Katherine Ray.
Scrooge’s period wardrobe is colorful and authentic (Renee Purdy, in partnership with the Warner Theater), with some selective costume changes on stage that are a seamless part of the show’s flow.
The simple set is as serviceable as it is austere, and the lighting (Matt Pagliaro) is appropriate to the generally gothic mood that has been created by director (and set designer) Scott R. Brill, who orchestrates all the elements with a sure hand and an eye for dramatic stagecraft.
The show is produced by the wonderfully exuberant Pamme Jones, whose pre-curtain speeches alone are worth the price of admission (no pressure, Pamme!).
“A Christmas Carol” is at Ridgefield Theater Barn Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 20.
Of course, masks are mandatory. The modified seating plan has a reduced number of tables sold as single-unit pods of four seats, at $140 ($35 per seat). They are spaced apart by six feet.
Tickets to watch a recorded performance by streaming it on a digital device are $20. For information, visit ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org.
I streamed the performance. Because the production is designed for a live stage performance, there are some minor compromises that attend the screen version.
It may differ for others, depending on which technology is used to enjoy the show, but I found the clarity of the dialogue at times affected by the spatial ambience of the space, notably through my TV speakers (so I switched to an iPad and earbuds).
Producer Pamme Jones explained that it’s recorded that way by design to recreate the theatrical aural experience at home. Makes sense in theory. In practice … hmm.
A few times, when stage lighting is dimmed for effect, the screen picture is darker than would be the case for a live audience in the theater.
None of that, though, dims the credit and gratitude that is due Ridgefield Theater Barn for its timely ingenuity and enterprise in bringing live professional theater out of the wings and back on stage during this otherwise humbug of a holiday season.
God bless them, and us, everyone.
Note: While we’re on the subject, a 60-minute solo show, “Mr. Dickens Tells a Christmas Carol,” with Michael Muldoon in the title role, is being presented, in the Bronx, for live audiences by M&M Performing Arts through Dec. 20. For information, visit bartowpellmansionmuseum.org.
Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at email@example.com; 914-275-6887.