Sometimes it seems as if there are as many different stage adaptations of A Christmas Carol as there are annual productions of it. At Flat Rock Playhouse, the Christopher Schario-scripted version of Charles Dickens’ familiar but always worth-revisiting tale of the holiday season’s reclamation of the notorious skinflint Scrooge by a series of ghostly visitations, draws on the presentational style of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby as mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company 30 years ago: An ensemble of actors takes turns narrating the story (in some cases reading directly from the book), moving in and out of the multitude of characters to enact the more fully dramatized scenes. It’s an approach that can go flat unless remarkably skilled performers, which Flat Rock supplies, are in hands as good as those of director Neela Muñoz and her associate director, Brenna Yeary.
But before fully praising them all, one must once again remark on the superior technical capacity of the Flat Rock Playhouse. Lighting designer Herrick Goldman, costume designer Ashli Arnold, properties master Paul Feraldi, sound designer Allen Sanders, technical director Bruce R. Bailey and stage manager Johanna M. Erlenbach turn in more than first-rate work with what is an enormously complex undertaking, but the loudest shout out goes to scenic designer Dennis C. Maulden. His highly detailed and evocative period set is a marvel crowned by a large, central turntable set piece. Throughout the hour and 15 minute show, the cast walks around, over and sometimes, it seems, through what morphs into multiple locations, rotating it by hand. Expert use of this remarkable contraption turns this Christmas Carol into a dance as much as a play.
But design overwhelms neither story nor performance. Fiddle Player Ralph Congdon, located stage left throughout the show, leads off with holiday tunes (and underscores admirably throughout). Soon playful children appear (an ensemble comprised of Louise Cummins, Nicolas Hopkin, Noelle Muñoz, Isabel Ward and Heath Wines), and then one boy finds himself alone, in a corner, reading … A Christmas Carol.
The tale unfolds just as Dickens wrote it, almost exclusively in his words (apart from a couple of contemporary expressions in the children’s mouths, which provide welcome comic relief). It’s all there: Scrooge being mean to his clerk Cratchit, his nephew, good Samaritans; the ghost of Marley haunting his former partner Scrooge; spirits transporting Scrooge to the past (in which he was, at first, a warm-hearted but often lonely boy, and then a better man than he became), showing him the present (where his callousness has consequences he never perceived), and foreshadowing his future (which he will be fortunate and wise enough to change). Christmas arrives, Scrooge transforms, amends are made, Tiny Tim is saved…
The child actors are, for the most part, marvelous. Too often, one must be indulgent toward the awkward phrasing and, frankly, awkwardness in general of youths onstage; but, perhaps at least in part due to Flat Rock’s YouTheatre training program, these young ones blend beautifully with the adults, who are as good as anyone gets. Damian Duke Domingue, Lynn Llewelyn, Bill Muñoz and Paige Posey put a personal stamp on each of the dozens of roles divided among them; it isn’t long before one must suppose there isn’t anyone or anything they can’t portray.
Only Peter Thomasson plays a single character, Scrooge, and his is a fully realized evocation. It’s as tricky to take on Scrooge as it is to attempt Hamlet, because most of us have already seen great actors in these parts, on film as well as on stage. Thomasson negotiates the terrain with enormous thoughtfulness, conviction, and restraint. He manages a seemingly effortless blend of the familiar and his own original flourishes. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re of a mood this holiday season to take in a Christmas-themed production, you have many choices in the greater Asheville area, from the utterly earnest to the insistently irreverent. Know, then, that Flat Rock’s Christmas Carol is a lovely treat.
A Christmas Carol, by Christopher Schario, adapted from Charles Dickens. Director: Neela Muñoz. Associate Director: Brenna Yeary. Lighting Design: Herrick Goldman. Scenic Design: Dennis C. Maulden. Costume Design: Ashli Arnold. Sound Design: Allen Sanders. Casting Director & Artistic Consultant: Dave Clemmons. Properties Master: Paul Feraldi. Technical Director: Bruce R. Bailey. Stage Manager: Johanna M. Erlenbach.
With: Damian Duke Domingue, Lynn Llewelyn, Bill Muñoz, Paige Posey, Peter Thomasson, Louise Cummins, Nicolas Hopkin, Noelle Muñoz, Isabel Ward, and Heath Wines. Fiddle Player: Ralph Congdon.
Through Dec. 23. Full schedule and details at http://flatrockplayhouse.org.