I’ve long thought that if there were a moment in literature I could join and stay forever, it may just be Fezziwig’s Christmas party — a perfect evening of wassailing and dancing, in the spirit of joviality, generosity, and community.
That is what A Christmas Carol — in any version worth its weight in figgy pudding — should offer, a chance to reflect on past mistakes and a renewed belief that we can and will do better by the members of our community. And that is exactly what this new adaptation of A Christmas Carol at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) offers with abundance.
CSC Company Member Laura Rocklyn — an actor and adapter of Brontëan and Austenite works — is genuinely at home in the 19th century and deftly updates Dickens’ prose when needed but keeps as much of his original wit and sentiment as possible.
Setting the play in 1842 Baltimore works incredibly well. Audience members chuckled at hearing the names of various Baltimore neighborhoods (Scrooge lives in Mount Vernon while Bob Cratchit and family reside near Fells Point) and references to historical personages and events, including Baltimore’s own favorite writer of ghost stories: Edgar Allan Poe. Marley and Scrooge’s office is located at the intersection of Calvert and German Streets (since renamed Redwood Street), where the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has resided since 2014. Originally a bank, the Romanesque facade with its large arched window is fittingly replicated within the theater to become the setting of literature’s most famous miserly accountant. (Mollie Singer’s simple but effective wood, brick, and windowed set calls upon the creative powers of audience members to imagine Scrooge’s bed, a windswept boat, and the possibilities of feasts, graves, ghosts, and busy sidewalks.)
The dramaturgical note in the program highlights the relevant history of Baltimore at this time, especially that Dickens visited Baltimore in 1842 on a U.S. tour. Rocklyn writes Dickens into this adaptation. The great writer and anti-poverty champion is escorting Baltimore social reformer Mrs. Mary Pickersgill as she collects alms for the historical Impartial Female Humane Society when they are unceremoniously thrown out of Scrooge’s office without alms on Christmas Eve. The next morning, Dickens is greeted on a busy street corner by a transformed Scrooge, and we know that he now has the inspiration for the Christmas tale he wrote and published in 1843.
We don’t need that bit of cheeky revisionism, however, to make this an effective adaptation well worth making a part of a family tradition. Directed with warmth and conviviality by Shanara Gabrielle, this adaptation is lively, musical (traditional carols, hymns, jigs, and gospels are performed throughout, and often accompanied by Ellen Cattle on fiddle), spirited, and sentimental.
It’s tradition to tell ghost stories at Christmastime in the UK, and A Christmas Carol has a slew of scary and beneficial spirits, with a standout performance by Troy Haines-Hopper as the gracious and avuncular Ghost of Christmas Present, who sings many of his best-known lines in a resounding church voice while spreading Christmas cheer (loads of glitter) from a golden chalice. (Some ghosts — especially the monumental shrouded Ghost of Christmas Future, designed by Chester Stacy — may be a bit spooky for younger theatergoers.)
But Scrooge is also haunted by all those upon whom he has inflicted cruelty and indifference. This is also achieved well in having the members of the talented ensemble appear in each Ghost sequence as well as the framework narrative. Likewise, the Dickensian narration is not given to a specific role but lines are shared by all members of this cast — confirming again the sense of established community, one that Scrooge has long been outside and self-exiled from. Kristina Lambdin’s Victorian-era costumes are festive — red plaids, wool capes, and beribboned bonnets — and clearly delineate between social classes and time periods and mark the specters (especially the Ghost of Christmas Past’s gauzy all-white Colonial-era gown festooned with fairy lights) from the Baltimoreans of yore.
It’s always interesting to see when Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart first begins to thaw in each adaptation. CSC veteran actor Gregory Burgess, who has growled “Bah, humbug!” at CSC for the last eight winters, is maybe (to cite Shakespeare’s King Lear) “a man more sinned against the sinning.” As soon as the first ghost takes him back to his boyhood boarding school, not only does he feel wistful about his lonely holidays, but he also reflects upon the carolers and alms collectors he abused earlier that day. Burgess’ tough exterior and crankiness quickly crumble when he joins in the dance at Fezziwig’s party and has been replaced utterly by shame and a willingness to change when he visits a series of Christmas present scenes — at the Cratchit homestead, as well as in factories and shipyards throughout the city — seeing that those who have the least in wealth often are the ones most full of love, grace, and charity.
This is a Scrooge who learns from his mistakes early on, and yet his metamorphosis into a generous neighbor, a caring employer, and a beloved member of his community never ceases to be a small miracle. It is a tale many times retold, but when A Christmas Carol is produced and performed with such joy and heart, it’s just as good as receiving an invitation to Fezziwig’s party.
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production ends, of course, with Tiny Tim’s cheer, “God bless us, everyone,” but it is the Ghost of Christmas Present’s greeting “Come in, come in, and know me better man!” that defines this production — full of cheer, curiosity, and a desire to learn and care more about our neighbors.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
A Christmas Carol plays through December 23, 2022, at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. Adult tickets start at $55; tickets for youth under 25 start at $29. Subscriptions and tickets can be purchased by calling 410-244-8570, ordering online at ChesapeakeShakespeare.com, or visiting the Box Office in person. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.
COVID Safety: The theater requires patrons to be masked unless eating or drinking.
A Christmas Carol
Adapted from the Charles Dickens novella by Laura Rocklyn
Directed by Shanara Gabrielle
CAST (in alphabetical order)
Greta Boeringer – Mrs. Dilber, Party Guest
J. Bradley Bowers – Jacob Marley, Nicholas
Gregory Burgess – Ebenezer Scrooge
Ellen Cattle – Fiddler
Morganne Chu – Belle
Lauren Davis – Frances
Emilia Endy – Belinda Cratchit
Kate Forton – Mrs. Pickersgill, Businessperson
Kyle Hermary – William, Peter
Troy Haines-Hopper – Christmas Present, Joshua
Lauren Erica Jackson – Christmas Past, Businessperson
Alex Jones – Freddie, Belle’s Son, Boy
Jade Jones – Martha Cratchit, Betsy, Belle’s daughter
Molly Moores – Mrs. O’Leary, Mrs. Fezziwig, Party Guest
Shaquan Pearson – Young Scrooge, Party Guest
Benny Pope – Party Guest, Businessperson
Samuel Richie – Bob Cratchit
River Robinson – Tiny Tim
Michael Salconi – Mr. Fezziwig
Emily Zinski – Mrs. Cratchit
Madalaina D’Angelo – Swing
Ryan MacDonald – Child Swing
Jake Stibbe – Swing
Shanara Gabrielle – Director
Sarah Curnoles – Production Manager
Sarah E. T. Jackson – Production Stage Manager
Dan O’Brien – Technical Director & Facilities Manager
Mollie Singer – Set Designer
Kristina Lambdin – Costume Designer
Minjoo Kim – Lighting Designer
Sarah O’Halloran – Sound Designer
Caitlin Bouxsein – Props Designer
Chester Stacy – Puppet Designer, Associate Technical Director
Grace Srinivasan – Music Director
Madalaina D’Angelo – Choreographer
Grace Santamaria – Costume Design Associate
Hannah Brill – Wardrobe Supervisor & Wig Consultant
Miles A. Lawlor – Assistant Stage Manager
Dawn Thomas Reidy – Production Associate
Lloyd Ekpe – Production Assistant
Kris Ingle – Board Operator
Kris DiBastiani – Child Minder
Mandy Benedix – COVID Safety Manager
Pam Forton – Senior House Manager
Alexis Davis – Backstage Swing