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‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas’ at Olney Theatre Center

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This December, the Olney Theatre Center is ushering in the holiday season with Paul Morella’s A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas There’s hardly a Christmas story better known than A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens in 1843. With its timeless themes of redemption and compassion, the story has been reborn again and again into plays, musicals, movies, cartoons, and so on – you’d be hard pressed to find a medium that hasn’t tried its hand at retelling the much-beloved classic. These days, the ghostly adventure of Ebenezer Scrooge is synonymous with the Yuletide season. It’s become a cultural tradition, and like many traditions, as time passes it becomes easier and easier to forget just how it started. Paul Morella hasn’t forgotten, however, and in his version of A Christmas Carol, he seeks to strip away the big productions we’re used to and return to basics: Dickens’ words and our own imaginations.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Morella’s A Christmas Carol takes its’ cues from Dickens himself, who was the first to adapt his work for performance, and if Charles Dickens was even half as animated and dynamic as Paul Morella, it’s no wonder that his book tours were so popular. Mr. Morella plays narrator, Scrooge, the ghosts – the whole host of characters – and embodies each in a quick but precise change of voice and body language. The script is taken word for word from the original novella, making the whole production feel a bit like being read to by a fire, only better. And though the audience is encouraged to imagine the characters and settings as they wish, it’s hard to take your eyes off of Morella as he runs the gamut from ghoulish to comic.

This is the sixth production of his version of A Christmas Carol that Morella has done, having performed it every year since premiering it in 2009. And while aspects of the production have doubtless changed from year to year, that experience and practice is obvious in the execution.

Aiding this outstanding production is a small but experienced crew. Jason Loewith, an Olney Theatre Center alum, is Artistic Director for this production. Debbie Ellinghaus is the Managing Director. Jeffery Westlake, who commissioned the original production in 2009, returns as production consultant, and Ben Walsh is production stage manager.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Lighting Designer Sonya Dowhaluk and Sound Designer Edward Moser, have created something truly special with their effects, creating sets and characters out of thin air to populate this tale with Morella. And just as impressively, they’re on point with his performance down to the very second. Dowhaluk and Morella’s duel creation of Marley in his first appearance as the door knocker was startling, and her changes of lighting were crucial to indicate scene changes. Edward Moser used a vast library of sounds to underscore Morella’s narration, creating both ghostly sound effects and the more mundane sounds of the living. The ringing of the bells before Marley’s visit was chilling, all the more for not being able to tell where the sounds were coming from.

The stage itself is unchanging; a clutter of Victoriana and the contents of library spill out on the floor. A writing desk is littered with quills and papers, an arm chair and ottoman wait for someone to sit, and a large grandfather clock looms quietly upstage. The floor is covered in an artful array of rugs, scattered books and papers, and other knickknacks. This isn’t the traditional setting for A Christmas Carol. Instead, it’s an exaggeration of the authors’ study – the magical place where words were put to paper and anything can happen.

Paul Morella and The Olney Theatre Center have created a gorgeous production, visually and otherwise. In the hands of this talent performer and crew, this holiday classic is as alive as if Charles Dickens were writing it before our very eyes. Don’t miss this years’ production of Paul Morella’s A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story at Olney Theatre Center. It’s a holiday treat you don’t want to miss!

Before curtain and during intermission, be sure to read through the program, which is filled with tons of trivia about Charles Dickens, the writing of A Christmas Carol, obscure Victorian vocabulary, and other fun facts.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.

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A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas plays through December 27, 2015 at the Olney Theatre Center in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab – 2001 Olney Sandy-Spring Road, in Olney, MD.  For tickets, Tickets call the box office at (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.

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