by Beverly Creasey
The Lyric Stage's "Christmas Carol" may be small --- a miniature version which plays in just over an hour --- but its rewards are immense. Christopher Schario has shortened the Dickens story so skillfully you won't even notice the change, and you; 'll be hard pressed to remember what's been left out. All the sentiment and all the humanity is there intact, and each finely etched scene seems fresh and alive.
Each actor in the ensemble (except Scrooge) plays a wealth of parts, slipping in and out of costume, in and out of character, even in and out of time to make this "Carol" even more rewarding than the upscale extravaganzas some theatres have created. (You can see some dozen around town this December.) The key to director Michael Bradshaw's production is simnplicity --- and ingenuity. For example, when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge out to sea, the shipboard actors simply sway in unison --- no props are needed to convey the idea of "ocean".
In the Lyric's version, one scene drifts into the next with actors doffing hats and aprons to become other charactyers. And one of the pleasures here is seeing the sound effects come to life as when a wind machine is cranked in full view --- all of which focuses us on the story. Dickens, who spent his childhood in a debtors' prison, knew firsthand the effects of moral evil. There may be no more powerful tale of destruction and reconciliation than "A Christmas Carol". Before he became a famous author (a dramatized "Carol" even toured the U.S. with its author) Dickens worked as a clerk, so he knew Bob Crachit intimately. Diego Arciniegas plays Crachit --- as well as myriad others. It's great fun to watch him bend a bit, lower his voice, and age fifty years to become Mr. Fezziwig!
Dan Bolton too gets to show is stuff. Bolton is so versatile -- he's Scrooge's congenial nephew in one scene and the blustery Ghost of Christmas Present, and many more, the next. Ann-Marie Cusson is luminous in Gail Astrid Buckley's "Santa Lucia" costume as the Ghost of Christmas Past...and as Mrs. Crachit, et al. Mchele Proude, too, is radiant in several roles. Matthew Bretschneider gives a phenomenally seasoned performance for someone in the 7th grade. He's a "remarkable" boy indeed. Best of all is Michael Bradshaw (iun addition to his sensitive direction) as the pinched, spiritually impoverished Scrooge. His reclamation is nothing short of joyous. If you are not moved, you have a sprig of holly embedded in your heart.
After intermission, Bradshaw and company "read" aloud Clement Moore's classic "A Night Before Christmas" ... interrupted with songs and carols which we're all invited to sing. Spiro Veloudos' adaptation is really a curtain-raiser rather than a -closer, but it nevertheless acts as a sweet treat after the main meal. Besides, the night I attended they already had a curtain-raiser: the Lyric's Board Chair Peter Nauman delivered the shortest yet version of "Hamlet. Take that, Tom Stoppard!