Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: DECEMBER 12, 2008
A clash of ‘Carols.’ A skirmish of Scrooges. Ole Ebenezer is back – on two San Diego stages. Actually, he’s all over town. There are no fewer than four incarnations of the perennial Dickens classic at local theaters – from a gay version to a black one, and two Victorian variations. For now, let’s look at the traditional editions.
Cygnet Theatre is presenting a new adaptation by artistic director Sean Murray , in the company’s new theater space, the historic Old Town Theatre. A marvelous renovation has rendered the place period-appropriate and quite grand. No more old red barn. This is an elegant Edwardian space, with all the bells and whistles of modern theatrical design. And the new ‘Christmas Carol’ shows off all the potential, making effective use of the traps below and the fly space above.
This is a ghost story; make no mistake about it. That’s what Dickens conveyed in his wildly popular oral presentations of the morality tale in the mid-1800s, and it works delectably now, too. Ashy-white and draped in chains, warning Scrooge to change his life before it’s too late, Marley’s ghost is truly spooky. So is the ghost of Christmas Future, an oversized puppet, some 12 feet tall, a large, looming black presence that could scare a little one, for sure. The ethereal ghost of Christmas past and jocular Ghost of Christmas present also make memorable appearances. The ensemble carries most of the narration, taken directly from Dickens, and they punctuate the storytelling with song. Jim Chovick is a wonderfully crusty Scrooge, and in his redemption, he makes a fine transition to avuncular, Christmas-loving do-gooder. The cast is outstanding, the costumes are glorious and it’s quite a sight to see.
The North Coast Repertory Theatre version is more pared-down and kid-friendly. It plays more for the laughs, it’s only 90 minutes long, and the ghosts aren’t in the slightest scary. This production, directed by Stephen Elton, emphasizes the ‘Carol’ in ‘Christmas Carol.’ Seasonal songs are woven throughout the story, which is bookended by a symbolic walk through the city. At the beginning, this Scrooge is all ‘humbug!’ When he takes his final London stroll, there’s no jollier fellow, imbued with the spirit of the season. Reprising his performance from last year, Ron Choularton makes for a deliciously peevish, ill-tempered miser, and a wide-eyed, thumb-sucking baby in his rebirth. The small ensemble is excellent, though the narrative, adapted by local playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger, seems a bit rushed, with certain plot-points and relationships feeling under-developed at times.
But there are definitely delights to be had in both productions. And at least there aren’t twenty Christmas Carols to be seen; to use Tiny Tim as a crutch this holiday-happy season, ‘God bless the theaters, every one.’
“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 27 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
The Cygnet Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol” continues through December 28 at the newly refurbished Old Town Theatre.
©2008 PAT LAUNER