Humbug. It’s an under-utilized expression I think. Sure it comes out during the holidays, but on the whole, I think the word should be less seasonal and broken out more regularly. Certainly for me it’s the most apropos word to describe the typical Holiday theatre faire. San Jose Rep has rolled out the snowy carpet for the oft done A Christmas Carol for their December slot, but this Carol combines some authentic Victorian tones, a very Dickensian text, and an interesting, and I’ll even say fresh take on the story.
A versatile ensemble of characters were tasked with not only playing multiple characters in this production, but playing a variety of instruments, moving scenery and singing to boot. The action and transitions are stitched together with a generous dose of Christmas carols and love them or hate them (I’ve personally been over carols since 1989) their harmonies are consistent, on key and joyfully presented.
One of the good things about Holiday theatre plots like, A Christmas Carol is that they give families a lot of wholesome opportunities to see theatre together. This production however, although there were a handful of kids in it, was not terribly kid-friendly. While I can’t fault the adaptation (I’ve no beef with staying true to the original text and plenty of fans will surely enjoy the restored spiritual literary elements) I wager this interpretation isn’t one your kids would stay interested in. I know I risk being burned at the stake by saying it, but as an English major, seeing the name Dickens would elicit a collective groan from the class when it was discovered on the syllabus. The joke was he was paid by the word and while this show didn’t feel long over all, it was wordy and thick with Dickens’ trademark prose.
At this level of theatre (be it defined by company budget, price of ticket, or reputation) I think I expect real attention to detail and follow through with regard to the storytelling. Certainly I hold the Rep to higher standards than some other companies, and I don’t think that’s wholly unfair. So it frustrated me that I was full of this feeling of “almost but not quite” with regard to this production. Why have an amazing Victorian cart rolled out on stage for a mere minute, with fantastic prop meats and not have the actors even mime exchange of money for the goods? Maybe they paid for that meat earlier? Hmmm. And how can you justify having the Youngest Scrooge and Young Scrooge, seen moments apart, with two vastly different hair colors? And, would it have been too much to ask to have your amazing Ghost of Christmas Future to have slightly less jarring hand motions. Couldn’t you get a finger to move and the arm to move slower to keep the ghostly rather than robotic illusion?
All in all there is merit in the interpretation and execution of this production from a historical and literary standpoint but, I wasn’t transformed as Scrooge was in the end. And so, 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for this production that may excite fans of Dickens, but left this Princess wanting more hum and less bug. A Christmas Carol plays through December 23rd at the San Jose Rep.