A Christmas Carol: An Evening of Dickensian Delights
No Christmas season would be complete without a stage production of Charles Dickens's famous tale about a crotchety geezer's Yuletide redemption. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge has been told and re-imagined many times over.
Thus, it is a challenge to put a different if not unique spin on this classic yarn. Actress and Director Rachel Martindale with Dream Theatre Company (DTC) attempts just that in an intimate, delightful production, "A Christmas Carol: An Evening of Dickensian Delights."
DTC's goal is to "shatter the barrier between actor and audience." Dream Laboratory's small stage allows the actors to easily interact with the viewers. They help serve hot cider and homemade treats before the show, and talk (still in character) with audience members after the performance while handing out candy canes.
In addition, DTC "focuses on the development of the actor as an artist." True to that mission, Martindale and her two costars deliver wondrous performances that celebrate the art and craft of acting along with the holiday season.
Martindale, in addition to adapting and directing this production, is cast in the role of Narrator One. She looks every bit the 19th Century lass from her long, unkempt curly red hair, white Victorian blouse, down to her full-length burgundy skirt. She speaks to the audience in proper English as she sets the stage for the story to be told over the next 80 minutes.
Joe Kloehn serves as Narrator Two. Dressed in period-appropriate simplicity, his tall, lanky frame and boyish visage allow him to float effortlessly between the different characters he portrays in between his narrative parts.
Both Martindale and Kloehn demonstrate excellent versatility as they take on the different characters that Ebenezer Scrooge encounters during his journey towards redemption. With the time it takes to put on a hat or take hold of a prop, Martindale and Kloehn transform with admirable facility. With accents, changes in expressions and gaits, they are thoroughly convincing becoming those characters in mere seconds.
Kloehn, in particular, is a remarkably facial actor. He gracefully dances between the different characters. One minute he is the narrator, the next he is Bob Cratchit. And of course, Tiny Tim.
His most revelatory demonstration of his skill is as the haunting Jacob Marley. The transformation in his face during Marley's sonorous, wailing moan commands all attention. The audience is terrified along with Ebenezer Scrooge.
Then there is Nick Ferrin. He is, as his costars, transformative. He is a young American actor, but with just a change in his facial expression and posture, he becomes the curmudgeonly, life-soured Scrooge. He twitches, fiddles with his glasses and clothing, all while speaking in "veddy-veddy" proper English.
Ferrin is completely believable as Scrooge in different stages of his life. His cantankerous face softens when he is shown as a young man who spurns the love of his life. He goes down to his knees and looks up wide-eyed, and becomes a young, eager child. When he is finally redeemed, he is still an old man, but there is a renewed spryness and lightness to his face and step.
The only snag in this production is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Martindale struggled a bit with the prop, which was a cloaked dress mannequin. With more performances, she should get more fluid with it.
The stage manager is usually overlooked, but Kaitlin Stewart deserves mention. Dream Laboratory, along with other very small stages, can be unforgiving for audience members who leave early. She was very helpful to someone who needed to step out briefly. She assisted without disrupting the performance.
"A Christmas Carol: An Evening of Dickensian Delights" is well worth seeing not only to re-experience the holiday classic, but to also witness the tremendous talent in Chicago's theater community. It is like opening a present before Christmas morning.
"A Christmas Carol: An Evening of Dickensian Delights" runs through Dec. 21 at Dream Laboratory, 5026 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. For tickets or information, visit www.dreamtheatrecompany.com.