Friday, December 09, 2011

A good Scrooge carries M&D's 'Carol'

What would the month of December be without a local production or two of “A Christmas Carol?” Now one man can only take so much of the beloved Charles Dickens' tale of a cold-hearted, penny-pinching cynic who finds the spirit of Christmas and carries it all year. So, here I am reviewing M&D Productions’ good, but unremarkable production of “A Christmas Carol.”

M&D Productions went a slightly different route with the classic. The production, which opened at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. Thursday, Dec. 8 and is running Thursday through Sunday for the next two, is based on an adaptation by playwright Doris Baizley, which adds a story frame of a bitter stage manager (Bill Knolla) gathering a traveling troupe of actors together to mount a production of “A Christmas Carol.” But the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge has gone rogue, forcing the stage manager to step up to fill the role.

After that set up, the show begins proper and more or less stays true to the Dickens' story. There is a playful moment in which Knolla, now as Scrooge, flubs his first use of “Bah humbug” and has to be coached by the actor playing Scrooge's nephew Fred (Robbie Distasio) on how to do the line. It is funny bit, and more of that sort of self-aware winking would’ve helped add an extra twist to the material. Alas Baizley’s adaptation drops the theater inside jokes after that exchange.

“A Christmas Carol” is such a timeless tale it is hard to screw it up, but there’s also only so much you can do with it. How successful a production of “A Christmas Carol” lies almost solely on the quality of actor playing Scrooge. In Knolla, M&D Production has found a most excellent Scrooge.

Knolla contorts his face into a believable nasty, grimace. He spits out iconic lines like “If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population” with a venomous vigor. When Scrooge has his change of heart, Knolla makes his childlike jubilation apparent.

As the narrator, Shelly Morin brings seemingly boundless and joyous energy to the proceedings. Her bright smile is full of good cheer that easily transfers over to the audience. She also doubles as Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former partner who warns of the three spirits, who will come to visit Scrooge. She makes a fittingly frightening Marley.

Elsewhere the cast is hit and miss, but other highlights include Steve Hoyt as an effectively earnst Bob Cratchit, Oliver Clay Storm as a charming Tiny Tim and Elaine Kondrat makes a pretty good Ghost of Christmas Past.

The show is punctuated by moments of the cast breaking into carols making the show a semi-musical. The songs are brief, but well sung.

People often forget how dark “A Christmas Carol” is, and in one scene in particular M&D’s Productions stages a truly creepy moment. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come scene concludes with the entire cast donning Scrooge masks and tormenting the real Scrooge. It is an unsettling moment that is enhanced by moody lighting.

The set is sparse, with Scrooge’s bed as the centerpiece. Other furniture and chairs are brought in as necessary, but this is a simplistic staging and it works at achieving its modest goals. At around 80 minutes it is a quick and efficient production that gets the audience in and out and ends brightly.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 662-7591.

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