The Penobscot Theatre Company has revived and roasted a theatrical chestnut for the holidays to the delight of local theatergoers, who have been deprived of a visit with Ebenezer Scrooge for three Christmas seasons.
Its production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Bangor Opera House succeeds despite a Scrooge who never quite convinced the audience he was the mean, miserly curmudgeon Charles Dickens created.
PTC last presented the Christmas classic in 2006. Two years ago, it produced “Peter Pan” complete with flying and last year opted for the children’s musical “A Year with Frog and Toad.” Neither was the hit with ticket buyers that “A Christmas Carol” is proving to be this year, according to director Scott R.C. Levy.
The script by Jacqueline Goldfinger, the literary manager of the Philadelphia Theatre Company, retains much of Dickens’ language. She uses a group of six or so actors, who play a variety of roles, as a kind of Greek chorus to introduce the story. They pull the plot along with energy and joy, as if they were reindeer guiding Santa across the night sky.
Arthur Morison, Jesse Havea, Christie Robinson and Rich Kimball gave outstanding performances in multiple roles. Morison was especially delightful as the ghost of Christmas present. Havea and Robinson were heartbreaking as the young Scrooge and Belle, the girl whose love he traded for gold. Kimball’s portrayal of Marley as an Everyman gave Dickens’ minor character a depth of humanity few actors ever portray.
Joseph W. Lane, a Washington D.C. actor, portrayed Scrooge. He last performed with Penobscot Theatre as Hoke, the chauffeur in “Driving Miss Daisy.” Casting an African American as Scrooge was a risk that could have gone awry but didn’t. Lane’s depiction of the man incapable of having a “Merry Christmas” cross his lips simply wasn’t mean enough. His Scrooge was more Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore’s lovable but irascible boss, than the Dr. Seuss’ Grinch or even Oscar the Grouch of “Sesame Street.”
Because Lane’s Scrooge never seemed menacing, his transformation from churlish curmudgeon to philanthropic and generous uncle was not as effective as it could have been. Lane’s slight southern accent perhaps softened his portrayal to Yankee ears expecting clipped British diction.
“A Christmas Carol” was a visual delight. Erik D. Diaz’s set, Lynne Chase’s lighting design and Rhonda Kirkpatrick’s costumes brought Victorian England vividly to life. The technical elements of the production authentically brought Dickens’ London off the page onto the stage.
Levy’s revival of “A Christmas Carol,” in spite of Lane’s weak portrayal, is a rousing and refreshing holiday treat that will allow even the Grinchiest of hearts to grow two sizes this season.
If You Go
What: “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens’
Adapted by Jacqueline Goldfinger
Who: Penobscot Theatre Company
Where: Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St.
When: Today through Dec. 23
Cost: $14 to $35
Info: 942-3333 or www.penobscottheatre.org