Theater review: “A Christmas Carol” at Flat Rock Playhouse

Peter Thomasson performs the role of Scrooge in the Flat Rock Playhouse production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Scott Treadway of Treadshots

The season just wouldn’t be complete without Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Originally published in 1843 to mass appeal, it remains a dark page-turning ghost story, best experienced by a crackling fireside. Flat Rock Playhouse manages to bring that firelight to the main stage with this hauntingly beautiful rendition, showing through Saturday, Dec. 17.

The life of London’s richest, stingiest, and most strident resident Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Peter Thomasson) has reached a turning point. For on Christmas Eve he has a visitor — Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Steve Carlisle). On this night, Marley has finally materialized into a spirit. He chillingly states, “I’ve sat invisible beside you many and many a day.” During this visitation, Scrooge is given a final warning that he, too, faces Marley’s curse — to walk the Earth in chains for all of eternity. Scrooge will be visited by three other spirits: The Ghosts of Christmas past (Lizzie O’Hara), present (Preston Dyar), and future (Madison Johnson).

This version of A Christmas Carol was adapted for the stage by Richard Hellesen (with music by David De Berry) to near perfection.

The famous subplot of disabled Tiny Tim (Liam Teague) and his father, Scrooges’ wronged employee Bob Cratchit (Willie Repoley), somewhat lacks significance. But the play makes up for it in other ways, such as the juxtaposition of rich vs. poor. The social classes of each house are transitioned well with the use of a cabled floor system. The stage crew is often the unsung heroes of any production — they seamlessly secure everything for and around the actors. Stage manager Bill Muñoz is excellent and should be well regarded for leading such a devoted entourage. The somber scenic design by Dennis C. Maulden and traditional costume design by Ashli Arnold Crump are gorgeous.

This production is without question an ensemble-driven piece, as actors play multiple roles around the notorious “bah, humbug” Scrooge. Standouts include the charismatic Dyar decked out in woodland Santa regalia, the heartbreaking Maria Buchanan as Belle, the well-cast Repoley, the bankable Scott Treadway, the hoity-toity Grayson Powell, the forlorn Andrew Starr, and the adorable Kyra Hewitt, who would’ve been a grippingly youthful choice as The Ghost of Christmas Past. Also, the towering presence of the ghost of Christmas future ominously personifies death. It appears before us like something that stepped from a nightmare of the worst kind.

The story has a strong religious underbelly, which is apt to be more accepted this time of year, as it projects the purest meaning of Christmas. Thankfully, FRP doesn’t veer away from it in favor of comedy, like some inaccurate retellings do. This production counters the righteousness by being dark and twisted. Rather than screaming salvation, we witness a human’s transformation from bad to good. We’re our own worst enemies, yet capable of change if we seek it. Thomasson’s interpretation of Scrooge comes in intriguingly blunt, jabbing transitions rather than a slow build to euphoria. It feels like a satanic shadow is trapped inside, relenting and then coming back for more.

From the kooky 9 To 5 to the melancholic A Christmas Carol, director Amy Jones shows impressive range by helping to release a grip of internal emotions. While Scrooge is scared of tracing back the steps to his past, we’re searching through our own hearts. The scenes of memory characters slowly fading away into the background are extremely powerful. You’ll weep. If only we could go back to meet that side of ourselves again, what would we say and would we change the outcome? This production is absolutely one of FRP’s most rewarding.

WHAT: A Christmas Carol WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Hwy, Flat Rock, flatrockplayhouse.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Dec. 17. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $15-$40

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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