“A Christmas Carol” or, the tragedy of loneliness

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Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

A Christmas Carol at Shakespeare Theatre NJ is splendid

Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol is being presented at four of the theatres for which I write reviews. The best overall production this season is the one presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison. As adapted for the stage by Neil Bartlett and directed by Brian B. Crowe and centered around a splendid performance by Ames Adamson as Scrooge, this show is a holiday gift to area theatre-goers.

Woman and man on stage performing A Christmas Carol
“A Christmas Carol” or, the tragedy of loneliness photo by Joe Guerin

In Mr. Bartlett’s adaptation, Ebenezer Scrooge is a man who has walled himself off, bit by bit, from human contact. He is isolated from his nephew Fred (Garrett Lawson), keeps his distance from his staff, including clerk Bob Cratchit (Clark Scott Carmichael), and rejects any appeal to his charity or his humanity.

A visit from the ghost of his partner, Jacob Marley (Lindsay Smiling), leads to visits from three spirits in an attempt to save his soul. Christmas Past (Quentin McCuiston) shows him his lonely school days, his beloved sister Fan (Emma O’Donnell) who died in childbirth, happy Christmas parties thrown by his old employers the Fezziwigs (Raphael Nash Thompson and Alison Weller), and his love for their daughter Belle (Billie Wyatt), who he loses to his growing desire for money. Christmas Present (Lindsay Smiling) introduces Scrooge to the impoverished Cratchit family and their invalid son Tiny Tim (Quentin McCuiston) and takes Scrooge to his nephew’s Christmas Eve party. Christmas Yet to Come, a towering figure robed in black, frightens and humbles Scrooge by showing him disturbing visions of a future based on Scrooge’s current behavior.

The marvelous script by playwright Neil Bartlett makes use of onomatopoeic sounds by a chorus of actors throughout the show. The relatively small cast double-covers and triple-covers all the parts save Ames Adamson, who towers over the proceedings as Scrooge. By turns gruff, suspicious, and forlorn, you see Scrooge slowly opening up to the joy of contact with the wonders of the world around him. It is a delight to see him utter his first “Merry Christmas” and dissolving into giggles—because it tickles! The entire talented cast is guided into a perfect ensemble by long-time Shakespeare Theatre’s favorite Brian B. Crowe.

"A Christmas Carol" actors on stage
“A Christmas Carol” or, the tragedy of loneliness photo by Joe Guerin

Dick Block’s scenic design, with the aid of Andrew Hungerford’s lighting and Steven L. Beckel’s sound design, conjure the Victorian London of Dickens’ tale. Summer Lee Jack’s costumes capture the characters from the poorest beggar to the most comfortable member of the middle class to denizens of the spirit world.

A Christmas Carol is arguably regarded as the most beloved of Charles Dickens’ works. Its popularity has lived for over a century now, and versions of the story appear regularly on stage, in the movies, and on television. This version sparkles like a snowflake in the moonlight. You must not miss sharing this production of A Christmas Carol with your loved ones.

A Christmas Carol is presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison through December 29, 2019. For tickets and information, visit shakespearenj.org.