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

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Gather round the Christmas fire to hear a tale of old; a classic Christmas story in its truest and purest form as Paul Morella returns to the Olney Theatre Center to presents A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas. In this stunning solo performance Morella captivates and enchants the audience with a truly riveting rendition of the Charles Dickens’ holiday story. Fast becoming a holiday tradition, it reinvents the tale as Dickens’ intended, haunting yet touching; memorable and laid heavy with the heartstrings of humanity woven through every moment. A Christmas phenomenon – Morella animates Ebenezer Scrooge and some two dozen other characters with a passionate approach that will settle in your heart like a warm Christmas wish on a cold winter’s night.

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.

The production would not be complete without the creative work of Lighting Designer Sonya Dowhaluk and Sound Designer Edward Moser. This team of designers works with Morella’s vision to encapsulate each striking moment as if it were its own story – highlighting the spookier elements and giving a healthy glow to moments of cheer. The visual and aural cues that accompany the solo performance make it a true holiday masterpiece.

Dowhaluk’s work creates striking moments that often define characters or emotions throughout the performance. The blue shadowed light that haunts Morella’s face when the face of Jacob Marley—who was dead to begin with—appears in the knocker, casts an eerie glow over the actor, making him appear to be not of this world. Bright glistening moments of orange and gold flood the stage warmly for the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present and other tender moments meant to be filled with cheer. Dowhaluk’s subtle play with dimming and raising the lights in Scrooge’s chambers sets an atmospheric tone of uncertainty, enhancing the words that Morella speaks when questioning his senses before and during the arrival of the spirits.

It’s Moser’s soundtrack underscoring this production that adds a layer of reality to the show. You are no longer simply watching a story unfold before your eyes but you’re hearing it as well. From the gentle crackle of the meager fire in the clerk’s tank to the busy bustle of the London town streets complete with carriages lumbering over cobblestone, Moser has a sound for everything. But the beauty of his design is in its subtlety; burbling along like a delicate froth that serves to augment Morella’s work without ever detracting or distracting from it. A brilliant blend of unearthly sounds echoes whenever a spirit arrives or departs; an overall symphony of the Dickensian world that sparks it to life.

Paul Morella, having adapted the tale for the performance, is a master of the work that you’d swear he was Dickens himself. His character work alone— jumping from person to person so seamlessly—is well worth praising. But it is his natural ability to hold a conversation between two characters – making it appear as if there really are two people talking rather than one man performing as two characters – that is truly astonishing. Morella does this exceptionally well when Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, and Scrooge exchange their banter in the first stave, and again in the third stave when Scrooge first encounters the Ghost of Christmas Present.

It’s not only Morella’s impressive ability to give each character a distinctive sound— no two sounding quite alike, each imbued with a voice that attests to their personality—but the way in which he creates a physical presence for each character that defines their existence within the story. The strongest example that quickly comes to mind is the ever-rocking and finger fidgeting presentation of Jacob Marley; constantly in agonizing movement to reflect the restlessness of his immortal soul. Morella widens his gait and taps at his tummy when portraying the portly gentleman of charity and even has a sprightly spring to his motions when animating the younger Cratchit children.

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.

A natural born storyteller, Morella transforms Dickens’ tale and highlights moments that are lost in so many of the pop culture translations. The Cratchit family alone becomes a story all their own; so engrossed does Morella become during this scene that for a moment you forget that it is but Scrooge’s observation and his tale rather than theirs. There is a particularly touching moment that is brought to light with Mrs. Cratchit and her Christmas pudding that glows with all the warmth of the copper pot she boiled the pudding in; a radiant moment that shines as brightly as any of the spirits or Scrooge’s revelation. His stunning ability to craft these little moments into vivid scenes is astonishing.

Morella’s tongue becomes the paintbrush and his words the paint as he makes an aesthetic masterpiece for all to behold; bringing each scene so fully to life that you can practically smell the Christmas goose cooking and feel that bone-dampening mist seeping in all around you. The poetry and imagery may belong to Dickens but Morella has possessed it in such a way that you believe the story to be his own. He is a remarkable actor that will have you hanging on every word – creating such a presence upon the stage that you often expect another character to arrive at any moment, and feel as if they have once he switches voices.

If it isn’t a holiday tradition for you yet, it very well should be, as you will not find a finer production of A Christmas Carol anywhere this holiday season. Paul Morella shines with the hope of Christmas Future and will radiate a holiday glow straight to your heart.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.

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A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas plays through December 29, 2013 in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center—2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets call (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.

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