Certainly, nobody could anticipate that “A Christmas Carol” would continue to resonate and have the poignant emotional impact that it has had on audiences since being released as a novella by Charles Dickens in December 1843.
Yet, not only has its five-stave message survived the test of time, but it has been renewed and reinvigorated by our modern-day’s emphasis on being self-aware and beneficent insofar our diverse society can co-exist effectively, if not outright be appreciative of each other.
Adeptly reflective of this is the Jen Bloom-directed production, which is presented by the Santa Monica Repertory Theater, and will play through December 18th at the Miles Memorial Playhouse on Lincoln Boulevard. It successfully retells the classical allegory of a codger named Ebenezer Scrooge, who, through the apparitional lens of reason, learns to change his behavior literally overnight.
The play is conveyed with a contemporary American flair in the absence of British accents, though it nevertheless sustains its pathos, even exceeding expectations. The stage design is powerful because it is without frills and superfluous props, instead relying on the rudimentary components of the stage. This begins first and foremost with the actors, followed by a swivelling wooden table, a few benches, and two projection screens that effectively utilize light and shadows — the credit for which goes to Leslie K. Gray (Scenic and Shadows Design) and Brandon Baruch (Lighting Design).
Bloom’s direction has yielded a very intimate portrayal of Scrooge’s transformation — and the emotional rollercoaster inherent in it — as if we’re watching the intervention of a beloved family member, who somehow lost his or her way due to spiritual corrosion caused by cupidity.
Troy Dunn portrays a spellbinding Scrooge, infusing the miser’s characterizations with the utmost urgency, fear, dread, and ultimately, ecstatic gratefulness for the opportunity to atone for his past misdeeds. What makes Dunn’s performance so impressive is the fact that, despite being on stage for the entire duration of the 90-minute production, his energy never wanes, and in fact ramps up with compelling intensity whenever appropriate.
Dunn bookends his overall performance, too, with an especially memorable beginning — as a heartless, doddering man in both posture and a frayed voice, particularly when he rebuffs the request for charity — and at the cusp of the denouement when he is pleading for mercy with every ounce of his vim and vitality. Through Dunn we experience the reformation of not only a man, but his soul, and there is no greater restitution to be had than that.
Needless to say, Dunn’s effectiveness as Scrooge is also a consequence of the stellar supporting cast he plays off of, many of whom (in addition to Dunn) are Actors Equity members.
Bart Petty, who plays Scrooge’s long-dead business partner, Marley, shines as the resuscitated albeit tortured spirit, who forewarns his erstwhile associate of the three spirits to come. Fettered by ponderous chains, Petty does an admirable job of rancorously remarking about his character’s life — through the grit of his teeth — which was squandered to the sole pursuit of money at the cost of a life barely lived. And so we discover that Marley’s shackles are as much a metaphor for his self-imprisoned purgatory as it is a harbinger of what would befall Scrooge if he doesn’t alter the course of his own destiny.
Moreover, Eric Bloom (Fred, Scrooge’s nephew) and Mike Niedzwiecki (Bob Cratchit) skillfully portray just the right amount of thankfulness and appreciation for life and their respective loved ones, which dutifully acts as a very laudable counter to Scrooge’s churlishness.
Julianna Robinson (Mrs. Cratchit) and Arlo Petty (“Tiny” Tim Cratchit) are sweet and sympathetic, the latter of whom precociously depicts a sickly child, whose innocence plays an integral part in the antidote and eventual cure of Scrooge’s attitudinal malaise.
Furthermore, Ewan Chung purposefully sets the tone with great diction as the narrator, Charles Dickens, before demonstrating profound complexity as a young Scrooge who is left by his fiancé, Belle. Yael Berkovich plays the kind-hearted Belle who wants more substance out of life, but Berkovich really stands out as the solemnly pragmatic (presumably) Mrs. Dilber who sells some of Scrooge’s possessions to Old Joe in Stave Four.
Rounding out the cast are Sara Mayer (Fan), Barbara Urich (Ghost of Christmas Present) and Tanya White (Ghost of Christmas Past) who bring much gravitas and import to their roles, contributing excellently to the payoff of seeing Scrooge become a rehabilitated man.
Ultimately, “A Christmas Carol,” presented by the non-profit Santa Monica Repertory Theater — which will admirably donate $1 of each ticket sold to The Harvest Home to help pregnant, homeless mothers — is highly recommended for a well-executed contemporary rendition of an often done classic.
“A Christmas Carol” will play through Dec. 18th at the Miles Memorial Playhouse on 1130 Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA
Tickets start at $20 for adults; they are $10 for children 12 and under. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm
For more information, visit santamonicarep.org