Stage Christmas Carol
By Montague Gammon III

The Virginia Stage Company’s newest version of A Christmas Carol is surely lovely to look on and lively to watch and to hear. It’s long on theatricality and spectacle, the sort of production that reminds us of the talents ably wielded by good professional lighting designers, professional scene designers, professional directors, professional costumers. (Depending on where you sit and how well you know the show, the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Future, just by itself, might be thrilling enough to make the attendance worthwhile.)

This is a Carol filled with energy and loads of song, and a fun show, but it can be a bit short of narrative (and sometimes verbal) clarity.

For one thing, those of us who know the story realize that Tiny Tim does survive his crippling illness, but no one says so in this latest staging. (Saying this here is hardly a spoiler; knocking off the prime winsome waif just wouldn’t be true to the spirit of the Winter Solstice Celebration.)

The actual line from Dickiens’ original novelette, which formerly made it onto the Wells Theatre Stage, is “…and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.” “He” being the formerly cranky, notoriously misanthropic old skinflint and miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Neither point is unimportant, and just why could probably fill a medium size term paper, but let it go that gracefully telling folks what happened can be more dramatic than showing them the same thing with less grace or certainly.

Director Patrick Mullins is clearly, and understandably, intent upon shifting the production’s emphasis from tell to show, from narration to action, from novelette that was read to playscript that is enacted and seen.

There’s not a thing wrong with that impulse toward dramatic purity, but the sort of “story theater” in which actors slip in and out of the character of a narrator while stuff goes on around them is perfectly respectable in itself. Here, in what appears to be an intermediate phase, a theatrical pupa if you will, there are quite a few, very small, moments where it seem the show is stalling, uncertain of itself.

To knock the complaints out before getting back to favorable comments: some of these folks, and not just the very, very young ones, just could not be understood. Not, not heard,, though there was some of that, but not understood.

While it’s perfectly true that actors should not need mikes in a house the size of the Wells, amplified actors are now routine in many shows elsewhere, and any intrusion from body mikes on a few actors would surely be outweighed by the benefits of rendering the lines audible.

Gregor Paslawsky is new to Scrooge at the VSC this year. He’s convincing, and his relatively low key approach – one can only be so low key when being terrified by phantoms – does make him a less melodramatic, more believable character.

As Old Joe, the perpetually tipsy Cockney street person, rag-and-bone man and semi-narrator who is essentially the class/cast clown, Norfolk actor Ryan Clemens gets in some scene-stealing and audience pleasing comic bits.(Using him for the pre-show announcement is a neat and clever choice.)

The folks who play the Cratchit family – Tim Rush as Bob, KT Fanelli as Belinda, Bruce Kephart as Peter, and Sam Randolph and Claire Whitelaw as unnamed progeny, all have a homey, comfortable sense about them, just as they should.

So, too, the rest of the cast. At ease in their parts, clear of such motivation as their characters possess – these are quick sketches, after all – they acquit themselves well.

Again, it’s colorful, tuneful, usually quick of pace and very theatrical. And for those who don’t know the tale, it’s about the Yuletime miraculous redemption of a miserly old Victorian money lender and slum lord from his self-centered materialism.

To repraise the various designers by name: Terry Summers Flint, Scenery; Jeni Schaefer, Costumes; Bradley King, special kudos, Lighting; Daniel Erdberg, Sound. They created some good looking stuff, and Mullins used their work, and his actors, to create some very effective moments and good looking stage compositions.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Patrick Mullins
Wed.-Sun., through December 22
Wells Theatre
108 E. Tazewell St., Norfolk
(Tazewell at Monticello Ave.)
757-627-1234
www.vastage.com