Friday, December 12, 2008

A different sort of 'Carol'

The Resort Players' present the American debut of 'Carol's Christmas'

Charles Dickens’ perennial “A Christmas Carol” has been performed, parodied and adapted countless times. Even Mickey Mouse and the Muppets have taken on the classic. The Resort Players of Mount Washington Valley has done traditional versions of the tale three times in the past, but this year the company took a different approach by presenting “Carol’s Christmas,” a modern twist on the old favorite.

“Carol’s Christmas,” by Canadian playwright Kathleen Oliver, made its United States debut at the Eastern Slope Playhouse in North Conway, N.H. Dec. 5 and is continuing its run with performances Dec. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and a 2 p.m. matinee Dec. 14.

The show falls somewhere between parody and homage in updating the story to be about Carol Dixon (Rae Evelyn McCarey), a shock radio DJ with a cold heart. The update is closest in spirit to the TV movie “A Diva’s Christmas Carol” or Bill Murray's “Scrooged,” but without quite the same level of irreverence.

Dickens’ purists may be disappointed to discover the ghosts of Christmas past and present don’t make their usual appearances. The ghost of Christmas past has been replaced with a flashback.

The ghost of Christmas present essentially makes an appearance, but without that title, instead the role is filled by Carol’s late father (Tom O’Reilly). This proves to be a pleasing variation that adds some tenderness to the exchanges between the spirit and Carol.

The ghost of Christmas future is present in all his Grim Reaper-esque glory. Carol’s interactions with this spirit are among the funniest in the show. One entirely unexpected moment provides the production with its biggest laugh.

The largest departure from the Dickens story is that Tiny Tim has been replaced with a sassy grandmother, hilarious played by Karen O’Neil. The rest of the show more or less plays out the same as a more traditional version — just with the details slightly altered.

As with any spin on “A Christmas Carol,” the success of the production falls squarely on the actor in the Scrooge role. McCarey, who also appeared recently in “Bash” and “Fall of the House of Usher,” is in great form. She brings the appropriate level of cynical sarcasm when she is supposed to be on the radio and transfers that energy well into outright meanness when she is off the air. McCarey seems to be a natural comedian with great timing.

The rest of the large cast is equally solid. Highlights include Stacy Sand as Marlene, the Jacob Marley character of the show, and Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, Natasha Repass and Gus Owen as Carol’s mother, sister and brother. Repass has a very amusing bit early in the show when caroling.

The only glaring flaw of the production is a slideshow of pictures of McCarey as Carol. It is unclear what the purpose of the slideshow is. Is it meant to create pathos? Laughter? It does neither. Coming late in the second act, it brings the show to a halt, but this is only a few minutes in an otherwise entertaining show.

The production, directed by Dennis O’Neil, is well staged and paced with an effective radio studio set design also by O’Neil. The lightning design by Christopher S. Chamber is suitably moody when necessary.

The use of swing-inspired Christmas music by the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy before the show and during the intermission is a nice touch. Make sure to stay after the curtain call for a little bonus.

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