Everything about The Steel City Shakespeare Center’s (SCSC) production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol surprised me. This was my first SCSC performance and I have to admit, I kind of want to go back today and watch the show again. For weeks I had been imagining what a show performed at the Troy Hill, V.F.W. would look like. I also wondered how a production company can carry out a play, with an extensive list of parts, using the concept of extreme casting. I was dreaming up all sorts of ideas, only to have each and every one proved wrong by the charm and cleverness of this production.
Walking into the performance space was somewhat startling. The room was severely lacking in holiday decor. I expected, at the very least, mock-Victorian wreaths or garland. The walls were bare; not even red and green colored construction paper chains or Christmas lights taped to the wall. I looked around the room again. There is no scenery displayed; no painted plywood or drop cloths hanging from the ceiling, to assist the audience with their transport into 19th century London. The space is basically unaltered. Standard hall chairs, metal with vinyl seats, are lined neatly in rows. By four o’clock a handful of families began to trickle in. These young children carried ziplock baggies of candy and filled the rows beside me. I took note; there are no screens for quick costume changes, no visible props and a roomful of young children eating candy. I began to think this could end very bad.
In the time before the show began, I had the pleasure of chatting with Michael Mykita, actor and Director of Audience Development. Michael shared a bit SCSC’s A Christmas Carol history, now in its’ third season. A Christmas Carol was initially a struggle to adapt from novella to stage-worthy interpretation. Mykita and Artistic Director, Jeffrey Chips, spent a great deal of time working the story into a format ready for performing. This season, director Jessica Schiermeister, desired to keep as much of the original story text as possible, so Mykita revealed, ‘the actors will narrate Dickens, then simply step into character as needed’. Interesting concept, but I wondered, how was this really going to play out. I hate to admit, I was skeptical.
With a cast comprised of 5 actors depicting all of the characters, there is no scenery, no costume changes, no stage, lighting, intermission or big musical numbers; this could not have been an easy task to execute. Michael Mykita, cast as Scrooge, Sebastian Midence plays the roles of Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Jacob Marley, Young Scrooge, Ignorance & Man with Bundle, David Loehr, cast as Fred, Fezziwig, the Ghost of Christmas Present, Peter Cratchit and Old Joe. Susana Garcia Barragan playing the parts of Charity Lady, Little Boy Singing, Tiny Tim, Fred’s Wife, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Last, Sandee Rollins, appearing as Charity Lady, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Mrs. Cratchit, Belle, Want, Laundress, and Christmas Morning Child. What SCSC provides cannot be compared to any other production of A Christmas Carol. Through the most simple arrangements, SCSC has created an intimate experience of refined storytelling. Throughout the performance, I watched intently as the actors interacted, almost singularly using tone of voice and facial expressions to distinguish their characters. This enchanting rendition is not the awkward challenge I expected but a moment of magic. As the cast narrates Dickens, and continually reconstruct their enactments stepping in and out of multiple roles, I expected to be bored. I also figured the children in the audience, some appearing to be as young as 3 or 4 years old, would fidget or be noisy, but this was far from what materialized.
The cast was engaging, energetic and completely enveloped in character. I was engrossed in the time and place of the story. Watching Mykita as Scrooge transform from bitter miser into a compassionate and gentle fellow is endearing. Midence, as the ghost of Jacob Marley is a part I may forever associate with the role. Loehr, as the Ghost of Christmas Present is captivating but it is his representation of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, which is most notable. Barragan, as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, shrouds herself in a long black cape, (one of the few props used in telling the tale) keeping her face hidden by a hood. This menacing portrayal is striking in comparison to the times when she leads the audience in unembellished yet sweet and brief sing-a-longs. Her depiction of Tiny Tim, with a wooden crutch propped under her arm, is an impressive gage to the scope of her ability. Rollins’s delivery of narration is most mesmeric. As the Ghost of Christmas Past, she maneuvers across the floor with a brilliant model of an astral figure by her side, flowing white and truly dreamlike, another of the few props used, easily evoking fear and grief from Scrooge.
I have never seen a performance like SCSC’s A Christmas Carol before. When the show ended I walked outside and was utterly surprised by the arrival of evening. I had simply been swept up into the story and lost all track of time. I can speak highly of this show, but want to confirm the talent of this cast and crew will attract audience members of all ages. The children in the audience Saturday sat transfixed, not making a peep. I felt comforted by the voices of the cast and feel I heard not just the words of Dicken’s but the message of A Christmas Carol for the first time. This act certainly brought a calm to the chaos that often accompanies me during this time of year.
A Christmas Carol runs December 15, 16, and 17th at various locations. For more information click here.