Operation Christmas Child will collect shoeboxes in November for needy children throughout the world. The…
Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkopf
It’s a happy job I have, deciding exactly where to start when everything about a seasonal production for the family is so right. Truly.
So I’ll begin where Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare did – with Richmond playwright Bo Wilson. Many years ago, Wilson was asked by a producer to scale down A Christmas Carol, the short, but rather densely written novella from Charles Dickens that was originally published in 1834. You know the story of the miserable Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future – and the beauty of it is, your kids do, too.
Well, Wilson’s first attempt went into a drawer, where it rankled around, much like the chains of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley. But fortunately for Richmond-area families, Henley Street/Richmond Shakes artistic director Jan Powell had the presence of mind to realize that we parents of post-Santa kids had plainly written on our Christmas lists a request for a “moving, funny, and smartistic holiday production.”
In Mr. Dickens’ Christmas Carol, four extremely talented actors portray a myriad of characters to tell the tale of redemption, moving effortlessly through Wilson’s script. We first meet Mr. Dickens, as he battles an epic case of writer’s block and self-pity. His publisher has bid him to “write for the people” (that is to say, Knock out a best seller!). The author bemoans the commercialism of the season as he struggles to come up with a fresh story line. It’s here that the spirits of Christmas are introduced as elements of the writer’s sub-conscience, charmingly surprised to see each other in the same physical space. Then before our eyes, Andrew Hamm’s Mr. Dickens morphs effortlessly into Scrooge – and the ghosts of past, present, and future work together flawlessly, jumping in and out of character for great comedic effect, to relate the story.
Joe Pabst, Rebecca Anne Muhleman, and Jeff Clevenger – as the Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future respectively, are about as tight an ensemble cast as I’ve seen. The collective family review (written in the car on the way home) could not identify a weak link. And even more interesting, I think, was that each of us had a different favorite performance.
Director Gary C. Hopper deserves major props for the pacing perfection of this one-act, intermissionless production which runs eighty minutes from start to finish. Tennessee Dixon’s effective and creative use of projections keeps teens and adults alike engaged as Dickens/Scrooge walks us through the narrative. Joshua Bennett’s set, David Plotnick’s property design, Joey Luck’s sound, and Elizabeth Weiss Hopper’s costuming (which called for some seriously warp-speed changes) deserve major kudos. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention choreographer Kate Belleman, as one of everyone’s favorite scenes was Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s former employers, cutting loose at the annual holiday ball.
And the last star of the show is …drumroll please!…VCU’s Grace Street Theater. What a gem for Richmond theater–goers, with easy and affordable nearby parking ($1.50 for two hours) and close proximity to fantastic dining, it’s easy to create a memorable family night in the city.
Mr. Dickens’ Christmas Carol is the must-see holiday production for families with kids over ten (if they’re perceptive and they know the story), teens, and adults (this means you stressed-out Mom and grumpy Dad) who might not think they need to see a holiday production to get the most out of the Christmas season. It’s creative, fun, and academic – but not overly so. But hop to it friends; you only have a few more weekends to see this holiday gift to audiences.
Henley Street Theater and Richmond Shakespeare’s Mr. Dickens’ Christmas Carol runs Friday, Saturday, and Sundays (matinee) through December 21 – at VCU’s very quaint and easy-to-get-to Grace Street Theater. Adults, $30; seniors, $25; college students, $20; and children 18 and under, $15. Click here for showtimes: Mr. Dickens Chrismas Carol.
(Photo credit: Aaron Sutton)