Lakewood Playhouse’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ provides infusion of holiday spirit

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The Cratchit family enjoy their Christmas feast and raise a toast to Scrooge during Lakewood Playhouse’s holiday production of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” Photo by Tim Johnston

The holiday season is a time to ground oneself in traditional things — familiar music, family decorations and the telling of familiar stories. A favorite of these holiday stories is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This popular story is told in cartoons, movies of various vintage, as radio drama and on the stage. It is a holiday staple of community theater companies. This year, “A Christmas Carol” is the mainstage holiday production of the Lakewood Playhouse.

Directed by Alan Wilkie, who did last season’s “The Rocky Horror Show,” the Lakewood Playhouse production is a remarkable blending of finely crafted acting and use of audio and lighting technology. The result is a telling of Dickens’ classic tale of Christmas redemption that is seamless. This seamlessness allows audience members the luxury to meditate upon the layers of the story and to simply enjoy the rich, visual tapestry and the well-acted characters.

The show features Joseph Grant, one of the best regional actors, as Ebenezer Scrooge. Grant captures the grand arch of his character, who is transformed from the dour miser to a vibrant, giddy and generous eccentric.

It is always a pleasure to watch Gary Chambers, here cast as the jovial Ghost of Christmas Present, do his thing with panache. W. Scott Pinkston does double duty in a portrayal of Dickens himself — here functioning as the narrator of the tale — and as Bob Cratchit, the good family man who is employed by Scrooge. Alex Koerger plays both the ghost of Marley and the jocular Fezziwig. Callie Williams hits a wide range of roles. She is charming as the loveable Mrs. Cratchit and less charming as the less loveable Charwoman who steals the shirt off the dead Scrooge’s back in a vision of the future. Isaac Gutierrez is Scrooge’s nephew Fred, the bright and lively son of Scrooge’s departed sister. Timmy Ice, Audrey Stowe, Christine Choate, Gabi Chappell, Ernest Balezi, Abbie Wachter, Atom Hill, Andrea Gordon and Ed Jacobs flesh out the show as a multitude of characters and as carolers (there is some wonderful harmony singing of carols in the show).

Andrew Redford’s set design creates Scrooge’s bedroom, the Cratchit family home and various street scenes and vignettes. All is wonderfully augmented by Jacob Viramontes’ lighting design and John Munn’s sound effects, such as the echo-effect of Marley’s ghost.

Repetition is revelatory. The experience of a story that has any degree of complexity is enhanced by repeated exposure. I found myself having new insights into the familiar old Dicken’s tale. This time around, I could see that Scrooge’s psychological experience seems like a breakthrough of his sleeping humanity, which has been — without Scrooge’s knowing — kept alive by the quiet presence of good people in his life: his nephew Fred (Isaac Gutierrez) and his employee Bob Cratchit. There are scenes in which both Fred and Bob Cratchit refuse promptings from others to curse Scrooge. Instead they bless the old man and encourage others to do likewise. It is this blessing of Scrooge, despite his own scorn, that seems ultimately to be the tenuous thread of humanity by which Scrooge is able to recover his humanity and return to a life of human warmth and companionship.

Lakewood Playhouse has fulfilled its role in breathing life into the story, which in turn has the power to impart the spirit of the season into members of its audience.

“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 17. For ticketing and scheduling information, visit www.lakewoodplayhouse.org or call the box office at (253) 588-0042.

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