In the month of December one certainly doesn't lack opportunity to see Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. There are numerous film versions, play adaptations, musicals, versions that update the time period, and parodies. There is something for everyone. Yet, if you wish to experience A Christmas Carol as Charles Dickens' intended you could do not better than to travel to The Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, Maryland to witness a small company of actors perform this faithful tale of Christmas redemption.
The Arts Barn is a tiny space tucked in the midst of a residential development located near the historic Kentlands Mansion. While the physical theater is small and the trappings of lights, sets and special effects is sparse, this brilliant theatrical adaptation by local playwright Timothy Shaw is noteworthy for one simple fact. Mr. Shaw lets Mr. Dickens own words weave the tale. For this is storytelling at its best. Sit back, relax and let this talented small acting troupe carry you in your imagination to 19th century London and learn the lessons of charity, love and grace that Charles Dickens wished his original readers to learn from the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Director John Dickson Wakefield and his assistant director, Cecilia M. Rogers have coaxed rich performances from the acting ensemble, most of whom must portray several disparate roles. The young siblings of the Tobin family gamely assay all of the young children's roles. Matthew Tobin is a creepy presence as Christmas Future and charming as Dick Wilkins. Danny Tobin is earnest as Peter Cratchit, poignant as the boy Scrooge and witty as the Goose Boy. Liam Tobin is heartbreaking as Tiny Tim and scary as Ignorance. Their sister, Maggie Tobin is adorable as Fan Scrooge and Belinda Cratchit and once again, scary as Want.
As the Cratchit mother Mary S. Wakefield will bring you laughter and tears. She also is hilarious as the bold and brassy Charwoman. Steven Kirkpatrick is the embodiment of noble humanity as Bob Cratchit. Tears will be brought to your eyes as he poignantly recites the details of a significant death in the story.
Taylor Payne is a beautiful young ingenue who shows great acting promise. She is loving as Scrooge's fiancee, Belle and full of regret as she breaks their engagement. She is also quite charming as Martha Cratchit and the put-upon maid for nephew Fred.
J. Peter Langsdorf is charming and light-hearted as Scrooge's ever forgiving nephew, Fred. He is well matched by Nicolette Stearns who plays his wife as well as the complex Ghost of Christmas Past. Ms. Stearns shows great range as she is sympathetic and scolding as Scrooge's past unfolds.
Fred Nelson brings a regal grace to the Ghost of Christmas Present. His whirlwind tour around the world with Scrooge in tow is a highlight of the production. Mr. Nelson's jovial presence is tempered by his spot-on grave emotions as Christmas Present relates the grim realities of the sadder side of the season, represented by Ignorance and Want who travel with him to remind the world of the poor and the destitute suffering during the holiday season.
On a lighter note, Mr. Nelson could form a comedy act with John Sadowsky as the two gentlemen who seek charity donations from Mr. Scrooge. More seriously, Mr. Sadowsky provides deep pathos in the role of Jacob Marley. Frequently, this role is simply performed for scary ghostly effect. While Mr. Sadowsky is not the most frightening of ghosts, his Jacob Marley clearly mourns the choices that he made in life. One gets the sense that he genuinely cares for his former partner and wishes to save him from sharing his terrible ghostly fate.
Arden Moscati takes the small role of Young Scrooge and helps you see the transition from eager young apprentice and ardent lover of Belle to the cold, heartless businessman that the elder Scrooge becomes. He clearly is a younger version of our protagonist.
Glenn Evans is Ebenezer Scrooge. His performance is so nuanced that his Scrooge truly is a real human being with real human failings in his life. Mr. Evans is marvelous in his interactions with both the cast and the audience. His gradual transformation from bitter, unfeeling miser to repentant humanitarian is a revelation.
In this adaptation you will see all of the shadows that Charles Dickens ghosts reveal to Ebenezer Scrooge without embellishment. You will witness scenes from the story with which you may not be familiar. You will also see all of the familiar vignettes that you may remember from the classic story you have grown to love. At a family friendly price and visions of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future that are not too frightening, this is the perfect holiday treat to introduce the story to your children.
The Arts Barn Theatre Series presents A Montgomery Playhouse Production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted for the stage by Timothy Shaw through December 18, 2011. For performance information please visit www.montgomeryplayhouse.org. For tickets, please call the box office directly at 301-258-6394.