By Tulis McCall
First of all, with this production of “A Christmas Carol” you will be introduced to future Tony Award nominees starting with Jefferson Mays (Scrooge) and continuing with Scenic Design by Dane Laffrey, Projection Design by Lucy MacKinnon (although it is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends) and Lighting Design by Ben Stanton. The combination of these talents produces a near explosion of time travel mixed with every emotion a person could name in a lightning round.
This is a version of Scrooge that has been edited with a laser scalpel. It digs into the loneliness of his cold cold heart and pulls us into the pit. The only dab of color on the stage is the rosy cheeks for Mr. Mays, and that, no doubt is because he moves like aa cat from scene to scene. The chow opens with an inexplicable BANG that makes the audience titter, and when nothing immediately follows we get a bit nervous. Which is what this creative team had in mind. Even the the ushers are skulking about the theater with signage, “Respect The Dead. Cell Phones Off!” Soon Mays appears and steps across the threshold of the present into the 19th century with no fanfare at all.
As the Mourner Mays narrates the tale that most of us know: a man with a lump of coal for a heart is cracked open like a melon after a long and arduous Christmas Eve night of being visited by four ghosts. The first, his business partner Jacob Marley, who died seven years ago on this very night. He warns that if a person does not walk among his fellow folks during his lifetime he will be condemned to do so after death. He is weighed by chains that are smaller than the invisible weight Scrooge carries. Marley tells Scrooge that he has a once to redeem himself, and to do that he must accept the visitation of three other costs: Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.
And we’re off. Hang onto your hats.
This production gallops apace at such a rate that it takes immense focus just to keep up. We are elevated into the stratosphere of the spectacle and we hang on tight. We are whooshed through the past various time periods as though we are on a theme park ride of magnificent proportions. We meet people Scrooge loved, who are gone now; we stumble into the Cratchit’s humble home that is so filled with love it makes your eyes water; we see the forecast of an empty bit of London with Scrooge gone (to the delight of his debtors) and the Cratchit’s in mourning. It is this last bit of news (exceptionally played by Mays) that pulls Scrooge up out of his bitter navel gazing smack dab into Christmas morning where he sees every moment as a celebration and every person as an gift by their very existence.
Mays barely has time to breathe in this whirlwind. The moments pass with the use of projections and what appears to me more than one stage revolve. One cannot focus on any particular moment – best to sit back and let it wash over you. And if you have any young ‘uns with you, be prepared to have to explain the story to them once you get home. Because the pace is so nimble we lose the three ghosts almost altogether. This is unfortunate as their contribution to the story is immense. Blunt, celebratory and cautionary, these three are the instruments of Scrooge’s transformation. To lose them in the melee is to undercut the very fabric of the tale.
In this Christmas tale, Scrooge stand at the very center of lights, sound and action. It is theatrical magic, and Mays never lets us down for a minute. He is astonishing in his precision and immersion in the moment. Would that we had a few moments in the script where the pace slowed to a canter and we had the chance to feel the minute changes that were bubbling up inside Scrooge to produce the transformed man we meet at the conclusion of the tale.
As it is, this show has a mind all its own. And that mind waits for no one. Climb on board or be left in the station.
As the show concludes Mays emerges like a triumphant runner at the end of a marathon. He is exhausted. So are we.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, Adapted by Jefferson Mays, Susan Lyons and Michael Arden; Directed by Michael Arden
WITH Jefferson Mays
Scneic and Constume Design by Dane Laffrey, Lighting Design by Ben Stanton, Sound Design by Joshua D. Reid and Procuction Design by Luch MacKinnon
Through January 1, 2023 TICKETS