Strong cast brings Dickens tale to life

  • Mike Murray<br>For the Enterprise
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 8:58am

EVERETT – A new theater company has been born on the hunched shoulders of literature’s greatest skinflint.

Ebenezer Scrooge springs to life in all his humbug miserliness in Outland Productions’ version of “A Christmas Carol” that opened last weekend at the PUD Auditorium.

The Charles Dickens’ classic is the inaugural production for Outland, which was formed this year with the goal of presenting classic theater that’s family friendly.

Gregg Hays, one of the co-founders, has fashioned a script from the Dickens’ story that meets that goal, remaining true to its 19th century Victorian sentiments of redemption.

It’s a faithful retelling of the Dickens’ story, presented in a straightforward manner with the big emotional payoff at the end: Scrooge, the stingiest man in London, is changed. Tiny Tim lives. God bless us all.

Hays, who also plays the ghost of Jacob Marley, directs a large cast of actors in a cleanly staged two-act production that comes in at just over 90 minutes.

The old London town setting is evoked by Victorian-era costumes and a simple set anchored by Scrooge’s curtain-draped bedchamber. The chiming of a clock, the rattle of a ghostly chain, a touch of dry ice and effective lighting all add to the atmosphere.

It’s Christmas Eve and Scrooge (well played by Lantz Wagner) is scribbling sums in his counting office while his timid but loyal clerk Bob Cratchit (Eiler Gutierrez) is counting the hours until he can join his family.

Scrooge dismisses Christmas, and those who celebrate it, as humbug. To the charity workers who ask for donations he snarls, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” These are words that will haunt him.

Later, as Scrooge ambles about his darkened bedchamber carrying a single lighted candle, he is surprised by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Scrooge is about to be visited by a trio of spirits who will make this a Christmas Eve he will never forget.

On this ghostly time-trip we meet Scrooge as a lonely child soon hardened by a greed so big it shuns even the power of romantic and family love. He’s become a money-counting miser without humanity or compassion.

The Ghost of Christmas Future shows him the shadows of things to come: the sad fate of the frail Tiny Tim and his own unmourned death. Against the backdrop of a gravestone, rag pickers cackle as they haggle over Scrooge’s bedclothes.

But Scrooge lives, and so does the true meaning of Christmas.

The cast ranges from adults to school-age children and Wagner commands it, giving a fully realized portrait of Scrooge that makes his transformation from skinflint to saint compelling. He is, by turns, mean and afraid, humbled and joyous, stooped with the infirmities of age and lightened by his rebirth.

Hays has the right approach in narrating this story with voice-over, and in Dennis Delaney he’s found a gem. The gifted actor, whose credits include an original stage show that re-creates the era of old-time radio, evokes the grandeur and the chill of Dickens’ timeless story.

His voice has the power, nuance and resonance that are the hallmarks of a classically trained actor. Delaney’s a born storyteller, and whenever he speaks, we know that Charles Dickens is in good hands.

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