A Christmas Carol

The State Theater Company brings its artistry to bear on that most conventional show of the season, 'A Christmas Carol,' and delivers a perfectly packaged production

David Stahl
David Stahl

A Christmas Carol

State Theater, through Dec. 18

Running time: 1 hr, 40 min

Forget Christmas. Forget for the moment the mind-numbing reruns and shows that bank on the tawdry commercial charm of the jolly season. Leave behind the tinsel, the lights, the carriage ride with holly, the horse with Santa cap riding up Congress Avenue, and step into the State Theatre, where artistic director Michelle Polgar and her company are bringing their artistry to bear on that most conventional show of the season, A Christmas Carol.

This is essentially the same version that the State produced last December, with an adaptation by British playwright Neil Bartlett, set by David Potts, costumes by Buffy Manners, and sound by the Gunn Brothers, but it's a perfectly packaged production. Bartlett's adaptation doffs its hat to the text of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella, entertaining us with that familiar Victorian style and charm as well as ringing heavily with favorite carols.

We are all familiar with the classic tale, the haunting ghost story that starts "Marley was dead: to begin with." We know it so well that the story of the transformation of our old friend Ebenezer Scrooge is almost like a tale from the Bible. David Stahl finds the miser's icy heart, but the actor's sly humor still comes out in the elderly makeup and crotchety disposition. His Scrooge thaws naturally without any risk of turning our favorite antihero into a doe-eyed caricature from Candyland spluttering, "It's Christmas Day!"

We know Scrooge to be "solitary as an oyster," however in this reinvention Scrooge is never alone. From the moment the story begins, the handsome chorus echoes every squish of his step, every tick of his watch, and every clang of his coins. The ensemble of nine, which juggles some 60 characters, is always around, and like the embodiment of Christmas, blithely thrusts parts of Potts' transformable set at one another like gifts with unadulterated glee, singing a cappella. Most of the actors from last year are back, and they fit snugly into their old costumes and roles, notably Bernadette Nason's eager portly gentleman and tall Rick Roemer as the humble Bob Cratchit, then reincarnated as Marley, both itching to see Scrooge be merry. A few new "fellow-passengers to the grave" shine with rosy cheeks in individual roles, such as Ian Galloway's bouncy Fred or Toni Smith's Ghost of Christmas Past, who serenades us with a bell-like voice that stirs kind memories.

The solemn moments are short-lived, and while there is the spookiness of a towering silent phantom of Christmas Yet to Come, it does more to spook an old miser than a child who knows better. Surprising us is Marc Pouhé as the second spirit, who is dressed like George Clinton in a Technicolor coat giving vibrant homage to our funkadelic present. But isn't that what we all want to find under the tree?

Director Polgar expects to bring back this production every season. If she sticks with this formula every year, Austin could boast a traditional Christmas Carol that signifies not just holiday entertainment but a model for theatre as well.

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A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, State Theater Company, Michelle Polgar, Neil Bartlett, David Potts, Buffy Manners, Gunn Brothers, David Stahl, Bernadette Nason, Rick Roemer, Ian Galloway, Toni Smith, Marc Pouhé

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