No humbug

A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Thomas M. Harlan from Charles Dickens
Directed by Andrew Rothschild
Thirteenth St. Repertory Co.
50 W. 13th St. (212/675-6677)
Non-union production (closes Jan. 16)
Review by John Chatterton

Those looking for a last-minute visit to an old-fashioned Christmas Carol at a reasonable price could not do much better than visit Thirteenth St. Rep., whose family-oriented version featured sophisticated acting, directing, and scenic effects, as well as a full panoply of period costumes. While this would be a fine show for children, the parents would also find much to enjoy, provided they weren't looking for something edgy or R-rated.

Mark Shock, as the old miser himself (not so old here, but it didn't matter) offered a pensive Scrooge with a philosophical bent, one who genuinely believes that it is more important for a man to attend to his own business, and pay taxes, than to indulge in charity. For those who could not meet his grim standards, there are always the workhouses and prisons. This is the Protestant work ethic carried to the extreme, but not one so devoid of humanity as to be unsympathetic.

Other standouts in the cast were Ross Mason, in several roles including Young Scrooge, who also probed intensely at the edges of his characters; Stuart Landon, as Fred (Scrooge's well-meaning nephew) and a Ragpicker; and Roger Ansanelli, as Ghost of Marley and some minor roles. Sarah Levine also stood out in supporting roles, both for her liveliness and attentiveness.

What made this production special was that the director appeared to have told everyone to listen to each other. Even the youngest members of the cast (and there were some tyros) generally seemed to take special care to consider the meaning of their lines. Only sometimes did the pace drag, as actors took too long over their cues. Also, the English dialect work (Sarah Levine) was much more consistent than expected Off-Off-Broadway, and showed a lot of work.

The scenic effects (Dan Wheelus), while modest, involved a horizontal piece that was hung from chains, thus serving as a tabletop and desk as required, but which could be removed when not needed. Scrooge's tombstone was a piece of scrim painted black and mounted over a lightbox. There were also some squares of translucent material illuminated by different-colored lights at different times, which made dandy windows, and some fine wooden set pieces for furniture.

The lighting (by director Rothschild) benefited by generally being turned down low. When the robbers broke into Scrooge's house to steal the nightshirt off his body the effect was powerful because at first all that was visible were the lanterns they carried -- there were many moments of visual mystery in this production. Perhaps the only drawback to the lighting, no doubt a budgetary one, was that it was supplemented by a followspot, which didn't make up for the absence of general lighting. On the other hand, many instruments that might be normally used for general lighting were dedicated to areas, and made for glowingly intimate scenes as required. The costumes were detailed and spoke of the period; the sound design was outstanding, offering everything from spooky effects to a jolly Bach fugue.

There were a number of lovely moments in the production, including square dancing at Fezziwig's in Christmas Past, the sudden appearance of umbrellas out of the dark when two businessmen were discussing Scrooge's funeral, and an intimate moment of song around Fred's table.

The curtain call consisted of the cast's upbeat rendition of "What Wonderful Weather for a Sleigh Ride Together With You." This was truly an ensemble production.

(Also featuring Richard Benson, Natasha Frid, Anthony S. Mondela, Meredith Luddy, Traci Redmond, Phoenix Ximénez, Jefrey Martinez, Kay Wilson, and Mayte Gamory.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2005 John Chatterton