Creative Cauldron’s A Christmas Carol Memory is a world premiere adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic story A Christmas Carol. Conceived and directed by Creative Cauldron’s artistic director Laura Connors Hull, and written by Jennifer Clements, the reason for the re-imagining was to tinker with tradition and explore the power of memories.
A Christmas Carol Memory is an interesting concept. Weaving the storyline of a modern family’s Christmas celebrations in with Dickens’ familiar story gives the audience a chance to re-examine the themes of the play, passion, forgiveness, and redemption. It also could give the production a chance to shirk some of its overdone elements (Americans, seriously – theatre is all about suspending disbelief. If Lion King can have human actors speaking English in it, you can set a play in England without having to adopt offensively bad English accents), but ultimately it doesn’t.
The end result is that there are two plays here: The modern family at Christmas framing device, and a full-scale classic production of A Christmas Carol that leaves a little to be desired in terms of lighting, line-memorization, and diction.
That much could be forgivable if the segments that bookend each act were particularly good or poignant. But for a play that centers around a young girl’s first Christmas after losing both of her parents, it lacks much depth. One example: frequently, young Charlotte is teased by her cousins and extended family because her parents are dead. The adults respond so mildly you would think she were being teased for having a dead hamster, not dealing with her first Christmas as an orphan. It is a baffling thing to watch.
There are other issues: the actors spend a not insignificant amount of time in near or total darkness. And I wonder about the appropriateness of having a 90-minute show without an intermission, especially with a reasonable expectation of having many children in the audience, many of whom were exceedingly wiggly and restless by the end.
I want to give full credit to the talent of the young members of the cast. Madeline Aldana, who plays Charlotte, has impressive stage presence for a fifth grader. James Durham, who plays Tiny Tim, among other roles, is exceptional, and his musical solo (written by Signature Theatre’s Matt Conner) is the one part of the evening that gave me chills.
A Christmas Carol Memory
closes December 20, 2016
Details and tickets
Another aspect of the show that was genuinely delightful: Scenic designer Margie Jervis has created a number of exquisite and haunting larger-than-life puppets, used to represent Marley and the three ghosts. They absolutely steal the show. Hopefully there is life for these puppets after closing night. It would be an absolute crime to chain them to their past.
I think props should always be given to companies willing to put on new plays. It takes a great deal more work, diligence, and care to put on a world premiere than a known entity. And doing a show where nearly half your cast is children (no matter how talented they are) is also a gigantic challenge. But perhaps, as was the case with A Christmas Carol Memory, these are two challenges that should not be taken at the same time.
A Christmas Carol Memory adapted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Book by: Jennifer Clements. Conceived and Directed by: Laura Connors Hull. Original music: Matt Conner . Featuring: Jennifer Pagnard, Doug Robinson, David Schmidt, Will Marks Stevenson, Madeline Aldana, Libby Brooke, Katie Culligan, James Durham, Kathy Halenda, Harv Lester, Constance Meade, Arianna Vargas. Scenic Design and Costume Design: Margie Jervis. Music Supervisor: Warren Freeman. Stage Manager: Dwight Townsend-Gray. Lighting Design: John Sami. Assistant Stage Manager and Properties Master: Chris Riherd. Produced by Creative Cauldron. Reviewed by RK Pendergrass.