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REVIEW: 'A Christmas Carol' at The Shakespeare Theatre of N.J. is innovative

christmascarol120911_optBY STUART DUNCAN
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

The 1840s in England was a time of intense belief in the spirit world. There were good and bad spirits and they fought constantly for the souls of humans. At holiday times, especially Christmas, the good spirits would indeed have a decided advantage as “tidings of joy” and “peace on earth” filled the air.

And so, Charles Dickens novella, “A Christmas Carol,” written in 1843, became an instant success. Dickens had spent a sordid life—father in debtors prison, he apprenticed at a young age to help keep the family above water. He was well-versed to the ravages of the underbelly of city life and his work touched on much of that sadness. The book became a huge favorite, translated into mediums not thought of in his time—film, the stage. And generations of parents have read it to their children.

Now a new adaptation by Neil Bartlett, staged by The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at its home base, on the campus of Drew University, in Madison. And director Bonnie Monte has staged it innovatively—11 actors covering more than 50 roles The show was originally staged at Bartlett’s home theater , the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in England and it uses only Dicken’s own words. Bartlett himself has pointed out that it was always Dickens’ intent that his work be read—aloud. Achristmas2carol120911_optnd not just read, but read to an audience.

And what a fine cast director Monte has assembled: Philip Goodwin (seen earlier this season in “The Accidental Death of an Anarchist,”) returns to play Ebenezer Scrooge in a straight-forward, compelling manner. No flamboyance, no acting tricks, and more satisfying that way. Gregory Jackson, back for his 13th year, plays Bob Crachit with his customary polish and finesse. Others you may remember from past seasons are: Erin Partin who plays Belinda Crachit (plus 7 other roles) in her 10 season; Tina Stafford (her 4th year) who plays Mrs. Crachit; and Clark Carmichael (his 9th season) who plays Scrooge’s cheerful nephew, Fred (and seven additional roles.)

As you can see, one of the pleasures of The Shakespeare Theatre is the return, season after season, of many of the performers. Not the least of these is director Bonnie Monte, now in her 21st season during which she has been at the directorial helm of no less than 47 productions.

This is one of her finest—Merry Christmas !

“A Christmas Carol, continues at The Shakespeare Theatre, through January 1.36 Madison Ave., MadisonTues. & Wed, eves at 7:30; Thurs. & Fri. eves at 8 p.m.; Sats at 2 and 8; Suns at 2 Fri., Dec. 23 at 2 p.m. No performances Dec. 24 & 25. Box office: (973) 408-5600 or visit www.shakespearenj.org.

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