The Providence Players of Fairfax and The Young Hearts present Charles Dickens’ beloved classic A Christmas Carol, in an inventive adaptation by Rob Zapple. Set in the outskirts of St. Louis during the 1930s Depression, this particular version may seem like a far stretch. However, universal themes of struggle, strength, community, and redemption close the gap beautifully. Beth Gilles-Whitehead directs a large ensemble for this production, with musical direction by Kathy White.
The set, designed by Patrick David and Ingrid Helvig David, is an impressive one. Dilapidated, abandoned barns sit amongst a smattering of boxes and barrels that have been arranged for outside seating. It’s a sorrowful picture, one that is sturdily built and decorated with great intricacy. A Narrator (Tim Brown) introduces himself and begins to tell the audience the story of a special Christmas Eve from his childhood that unfolds onstage. Several townspeople huddle together for warmth and tell each other about their days (another day spent searching for work, another day ending in disappointment) as they share what little food and resources they have.
The cast is an exceptionally large one, and they all remain onstage for the duration of the show, which must have been a tall order for choreographer Brittany Marinakos. One thing that stood out for me was how well the cast moved together in an intimate space, a feat that must have demanded a lot of thought, planning, and practice–especially for a couple riotous dance numbers! The actors themselves play a variety of instruments throughout the show, from acoustic guitars and violins to harmonicas and simple metal spoons. Midwestern bluegrass adds both depth and mirth to the show without overwhelming the story or performances. I also loved how creative the story was–they could only use what little they had, and suddenly, rubber tires and sheets hanging on a clothesline (among other things) became several imaginative props. Actors used their bodies and voices as props as well, such as hammering their feet on the ground for thunder or pantomiming a creaky door.
When renowned Shakespearean actor John Charles Winthrop III (David Whitehead) and his manager find themselves stranded in the town after their car ran out of gas, they find themselves bartering with the townspeople. The crowd was reading A Christmas Carol aloud when they were interrupted, and it is decided that in exchange for gas, they will be treated to an exclusive performance of the story. Much like the character of Scrooge himself, John is impatient and easily irritated…and perfect for the role. What follows is an engaging and exciting enactment of the classic tale, seen from a fresh viewpoint. As the tale of hope and redemption unfolds “onstage,” the spirit of Christmas spreads throughout the townspeople, and by extension, the audience.
The large cast displayed a lot of talent, and while some performances could use some fine-tuning, the overall deliveries were well-rounded. David Whitehead is fantastic as both John Charles and Ebenezer Scrooge, two similar personalities who experience the same awakening. Ward Kay gets a lot of well-deserved laughs as both Mr. Fezziwig and the towering Ghost of Christmas Present, and Daniel Lavanga gives a solid performance as Bob Cratchit. Young actors take the stage as well, with particular standout performances by Talia Cutler and Caden Mitchell, who show a great deal of potential as Ghost of Christmas Past and Tiny Tim. The large cast is an enthusiastic one, and their festive spirit is contagious!
Providence Players’ A Christmas Carol delivers a new take on an old favorite, and I enjoyed it very much. This is a show that is worthy of your time and ticket!
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
A Christmas Carol plays through December 16, 2018, at The James Lee Community Center Theater, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA. Purchase your tickets at the door, by calling 703-425-6782, or online.
Note: This special holiday treat will benefit the work of The Young Hearts, a group of amazing teens who raise funds to battle blood cancers and other diseases. Half of all net proceeds from this production will be donated to Young Hearts Foundation in pursuit of their important mission. This year, The Young Hearts are raising money in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For the past five years, over $40,000 has been generated to support The Young Hearts and their important mission and PPF hopes to increase its support in 2018.