It’s not Christmas until you see the play!

A Christmas Carol at Trinity Rep

Every year we go to see Trinity’s production of A Christmas Carol. We all know the story of the old miserly moneylender who has lost his way given a chance on Christmas Eve to rediscover it.  It’s a classic.  And it’s such a tradition for Rhode Islanders that they refuse to declare it the Christmas Season until they go to one of Trinity’s sold-out performances to see Scrooge go from a crabby skinflint to a man who is as giddy as a schoolgirl with his Christmas spirit.

 

The Christmas Carol is a Rhode Island holiday tradition that I have finally had a chance to experience in person. I’d heard about it for years — “You can’t start Christmas without going to the Trinity Rep first”… “Scrooge will get you in the spirit!”

It changes every year. The first time I went, the play started intense — almost broadway-like, with kettle drums and the entire chorus of characters singing about the greediness and miserliness of Scrooge and Marley, while old Ebenizeer and his partner shake down the poor of London for their loan payments on Christmas Eve. It’s a scene that Dickens hadn’t included in the original, but it does start off the play with a bang, with Marley dying of heart failure and falling into the floor-mounted safe of Scrooge’s countinghouse. Maybe it was a little too intense for young children, but it worked well for me.

Another year, it started with almost modern Christmas Carolers.  Another year, puppets were the theme.  Yet another year Scrooge was female.

One year, the play switched suddenly into comical mode. Sad, unfortunate Scrooge wants only to be left alone to do his work, while his underling Cratchet is complaining about the cold, the Victorian equivalent of telemarketers keep coming to his door to request money, neighborhood children come to pester him with their singing, and even his nephew pops in to try dragging him off to some nonsensical family gathering. Even though I enjoy Christmas, I felt sorry for Scrooge, not as a wretch who couldn’t enjoy life, but as someone with a lot of work and too many disruptions.

When he finally gets home, it’s time for the ghosts to appear. The entry and exits of the various spirits are always cretive, making great use of the Trinity’s open floor design, appearing objects and people from the “flys” overhead and “traps” below. The costumes add sparkle, where sparkle is called for, and drearyness where that is needed.

One of the intersting things in the mechanical aspects of the play is that the scene transitions happen very smoothly, making use of what I call “stage ninjas”. Ordnarily these people do their work invisibly, but in this play they are highly visible, functioning as extentions of the ghosts’s presence. The Ghost of Christmas Past, for instance, is accompanied by a cadre of umbrella wielding sub-spirits who share her sparkle and playfulness.

We all know the story, and the dialog stays very close to the original text. The settings change a little, and the casting differs, delivering us female spirits of Christmas from year to year for instance, but a Dickens purist would have little to complain about. Some years, the cast addresses the audience directly, and one year they engaged the audience in a sing-along, but I’m not complaining; this is a play to get us in the spirit of Christmas.

And after seeing The Christmas Carol, I’m always ready for Christmas to begin.

Trintiy Rep is located at 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903 (401) 351-4242

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