Tiffany Raymond, ‘Burgh Vivant
The Theatre Factory breathes life back into “A Christmas Carol” by choosing a 2012 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic by Patrick Barlow. Barlow thoughtfully reduces the cast. His reimagined version is limited to Scrooge plus an ensemble of five who plug and play into a range of roles. The essence of the story remains unchanged, but it has a quicker, lighter tone. Dickens purists may find fault with Barlow’s generously modernized language. Barlow layers in references to things like “marketing,” which is how Scrooge describes the Christmas music playing at his business.
Director Olivia Hartle severely missteps in allowing the actors to adopt British accents. None of the thespians can consistently maintain an accent, let alone sustain the same one, making the wandering accent tour a chronic source of distraction. Scrooge (David Nackman) finds his dour as the play progresses, but at the start, Nackman can’t suppress his smile, making you wonder if Scrooge opens as an optimist in this adaptation.
Scrooge loves to talk in lofty metaphors that are designed to intimidate his lower-class borrowers. When Mrs. Lack arrives to borrow money and asks for Scrooge’s now deceased business partner, Marley, he tells her Marley has “shuffled off this mortal coil.” She looks at him quizzically until Scrooge finally enunciates “died.” Any negligible grief Scrooge felt has manifested to something he can call up on demand to shed the requisite tear designed to demonstrate a suffering he flips to take advantage of his customers. Scrooge’s turns of phrase come back to haunt him (literally) as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future later repeat them, cheerfully mocking his air of self-importance.
Nackman shines with lightness in moments of disdain, showing us early glimmers that Scrooge may not be all humbug. When Marley fails to leave at Scrooge’s request, he tries to shoo him out of an open window, flicking his wrists and inculcating his rendition of ghost communication with an accompanying, “Whoosh, whoosh.” He mocks Marley when the first spirit fails to arrive exactly at the strike of twelve and churlishly calls out, “Ghost, ghost, ghosty.” The five actors who play a variety of parts are never named beyond their assigned number in the program. This makes it hard to match cast to role, but they all radiate earnestness and prove adequate. Tiny Tim is surprisingly represented by a puppet. The actor who voices him is as laughably poor at ventriloquism as he is at maintaining a British accent, but it’s a quirky moment of shared levity.
Strangely enough, there’s a Pittsburgh connection to this British literary classic. In 1842, Dickens visited Pittsburgh and toured Western Penitentiary prison. It is widely thought that the rattling chains of Marley’s ghost are based on the profoundly despairing sight of shackled prisoners that Dickens witnessed here in Pittsburgh. While not the cheeriest of legacies, given “A Christmas Carol” was published the year after Dickens visited Pittsburgh, it’s not an unlikely inspiration.
The Theatre Factory’s production of “A Christmas Carol” plays through December 15th at The Theatre Factory, 235 Cavitt Avenue, Trafford, PA 15085. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.