Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thrills the Dickens Into Me

Thrills the Dickens Into Me

By Tom Wachunas

December 3d was opening night of the 29th annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” by the Players Guild Theatre in Canton. For all of that, the historic tale of one man’s transformation from misanthrope into ebullient disciple of benevolence has lost neither its relevance nor its emotional appeal. Nor, in the case of Players Guild stagings, its thrilling seasonal luster. Once again, then, this revered and long-lived community institution has successfully served up an abundant theatrical feast, with all the trimmings (and then some) that we’ve come to expect from such an iconic story.

This year, Joshua Erichsen (the Guild’s Producing Artistic Director) is the director, and he wears the role well, bringing to it his penchant for presdigitation (more on that later). Combined with the meticulously authentic period costumes designed by Susie Smith and Leslie DeStefano, the wowing light and sound design (including very effective use of ghostly reverb effects) by Scott Sutton, the engaging live orchestral music written by Steve Parsons with clever and compelling lyrics by John Popa, and of course the remarkably talented, energetic 34-member cast, you could rightfully call the evening a magnanimous conspiracy to enchant.

Second-grader Zachary Charlick brings a wide-eyed, genuine earnestness to his role of Tiny Tim Cratchit, all well-captured in the song, “A Child Alone,” that he sings, in one of the evening’s most touching scenes, with Michael Laymon , who plays Bob Cratchit. To that role, Laymon brings real tenderness as an actor and sincere warmth as a singer. Notably tender, too, is Amanda Medley as Belle, Scrooge’s erstwhile sweetheart. Her memorable singing in “I Have to Know” is achingly sweet and melancholic.

The ghosts of Christmas past and present are played by Kelley Edington and Tom Bryant, respectively. Edington’s voice in “Wandering,” like her character who takes Scrooge literally on a flight back to his youth, soars and haunts with piercing urgency. Bryant’s muscular performance also haunts, with infectious humor and palpable joviality, tempered with stern, fatherly admonishments.

And then there is the delightful matter of some creative legerdemain at work here. Mr. Erichsen’s magic touch begins with the set he designed, with its elaborate period tableaus built on rotating platforms. Almost instantly, building exteriors are changed into Scrooge’s bed chamber, or the Cratchit kitchen. Early in the story, the explosive entrance of Jacob Marley (an eminently spooky performance by Larry Weinberg) through the massive portrait over Scrooge’s mantle is topped only by his exit down through a trap-door spewing smoke, eerily colored with a hellish glow. During the party scene at nephew Fred’s house, notice how the parlor window hanging in midair shows snow falling only on the ‘outside’ of the glass.

Finally, as Scrooge, Don Jones – a distinguished veteran of many Guild productions - is a gently commanding presence as we witness his torturous journey through forgotten youth and into a future world that wishes him nothing but good riddance. With skilled finesses he morphs from scowling, distant and gruff self-centeredness into joyful selflessness – in short, a faithfully finished portrait of the man who eventually, as Dickens wrote, “…kept Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

Certainly the same can be said of the Players Guild Theatre. The continued tradition of keeping this classic gem of a story shined and alive is truly a labor of love, and a blessing on all who see it.

Photo: Don Jones as Ebenezer Scrooge, courtesy Players Guild Theatre, located in Canton’s Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m., THROUGH DECEMBER 19. Tickets may be ordered at or by calling (330) 453 – 7617 / $22 for adults, $20 for seniors 60 and older, $17 for ages 18 and younger.

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