Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Christmas Carol

Out from the depths of a dark set, a figure emerges and presents our story- traditional black suit, crisp red tie, and his eyes meeting various members of the audience to drive home his points. His words are the prose of a classic author, his tale and presentation is familiar, and he is very much along with his listeners for the ride. Sam Messenger is confident, engaging, and earnest in his portrayal as the narrator in Paper Wing Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol: In Prose with Puppetry” and he perfectly sets the mood for the show as it opens.

As endearing as the day it was first published, director Christopher Scott Sullenger’s adaptation of Charles Dickens original story is incredibly satisfying as a seasonal piece. The air is appropriately cold and bleak, but the white chalky set painting against black back drop offers a sense of nostalgic warmth in its simplicity. The costuming is appropriate to the time period, and the few set pieces that make their way to the stage are sparse and uncluttered, leaving plenty of room for the powerful performances of the ensemble group of actors. And the Puppetry design- inspired in parts with Henson-esque design and some similarity to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, is beautiful to witness.

The story is as traditional as it gets with the incomparable Jay Devine taking the lead as curmudgeon tight wad, Ebenezer Scrooge. Devine is cruel, cold, and heartless from the start with a brief sneer of disdain aimed toward the audience, the ensemble, and finally settling in to his drudgery and quiet dismissal of faithful employee Bob Cratchit (A friendly and amenable Larry Oblander) and earnest nephew Fred (Erik James Morton). Scrooge is visited by his deceased friend, Jacob Marley; in a loud, tortured, and painful performance from local horror host Shane Dallmann. What follows are three visits from three ghosts, two in puppet form and one in the form of Dallmann in a duel role as the celebratory Ghost of Christmas Present.

A large ensemble cast fill a number of other roles, from various Londoners, party-goers, and a live fiddle player who bring celebratory Holiday cheer to remind Scrooge of the young man he once was. The scenes build to the climactic arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Future- a harrowing image of full body puppetry and multiple puppeteers who bring the image to life on stage.

Ultimately, I can offer a lot of personal praise regarding the show- but the real highlight was watching my twelve year old son, a bit of a curmudgeon in his own right and at a salty enough age. His eyes glittered as the story progressed, he was pulled in, and he snuggled his old pop a little closer as the show came to a close. That made everything for me.

A terrific Holiday show, recommended for the whole family.

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