Jefferson Mays Brilliant In A Fresh One-Man Version Of "A Christmas Carol"
In theater, there is no greater draw than “A Christmas Carol” during the holiday season. And even though there are no live productions, there are plenty available on various streaming platforms.
One production of the Charles Dickens’ classic I enthusiastically recommend is the presentation offered at christmascarollive.com, which stars Jefferson Mays. For a fee it is available to view for 24 hours. A heartwarming aspect of the production is 40% of the fee is returned to local theater companies who partner with the producing company, tbd theatricals.
Troy Foundry Theater in Troy and Charles Wood Theater in Glens Falls, are official partners. On a larger scale, with local implications, Theatre Development Fund, the organization that operates TKTS, the half-price ticket booth in Times Square, is also a partner. In total, there are 57 theater companies throughout the country participating.
The Mays’ “A Christmas Carol” is special in several ways. It is a one-man show with Mays playing all the characters, which number more than 50. Another is that it is one of the most faithful versions to the actual narrative of Charles Dickens’ original story. The intimacy of this concept makes it ideal to view digitally. I can honestly say I would prefer the experience live, but I did find this 90-minute online version immensely satisfying.
You can reasonably define the presentation as a dramatic reading. Mays plays the role of narrator speaking Dickens’ words in describing a scene or a moment. His persona changes when he speaks in the voice of a character, but never does he attempt those awkward transitions so often found when an actor portrays multiple characters.
Yes, Mays does alter his tone or offers a specific inflection, but rarely does he attempt to sway you into thinking he is another character. As every superb actor does, he finds the emotional truth within a character and leaves it up to the viewer to see another person on stage. What makes this offering so satisfying is the performer trusting the imagination of the audience.
It is a trust that heightens one’s involvement in the story. In Mays’ hands, one does not need to see a Tiny Tim limping around stage on crutches. Dickens’ description and Mays delivering the words of the tender young man is extraordinarily satisfying. The same is true for Fezziwig, Belle, Marley, and especially the Spirits who visit Scrooge during the night.
Most important, Mays depends on Dickens to let the audience discover Scrooge. He is never shown as an evil person or even a nasty man.
He is a person who is certain that he is right in his way of life and oblivious to the pain others suffer because of that way of life.
Because of this portrayal Dickens’ social conscience is an important part of the tale. It is not Scrooge who is evil. It is the social system in which he revels that is corrupt.
Yes, we feel compassion for the Cratchit family, but it is the young girl and boy – Want and Ignorance - under the cape of Christmas Present who chill us. When the Ghost tells Scrooge “Beware this boy (Ignorance) for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing is erased.” You know he is warning society - past, present and future - about the danger of masses of people living in poverty.
In this effort, Mays again shows himself one of the great actors of his generation. This is a brilliant display of disciplined acting that lacks flamboyance and yet is filled with drama. Under the wise direction of Michael Arden it is a definitive portrayal of one of the great characters in literature. His work honors the prose and intellect of his creator, Charles Dickens.
If I have a quibble, it is the choice of lighting designer Ben Stanton to make the production so dark. It is effective in showing the soul of Scrooge and the bleakness of the times, and it adds to the simple visuals of the production. But it sometimes clouds a moment or a flourish that would add to the portrayal.
But it is a quibble. Stanton’s lighting is overall effective, as is Dane Laffrey’s simple set, the photography of Maceo Bishop and the effective sound work by Joshua D. Reed. Technically this is a splendid production that shows simple can be powerful.
My one genuine complaint about this brilliant production is it is a 24-hour streaming rental. It is a product I would prefer to own.
“A Christmas Carol” is available for streaming through January 3. Go to christmascarollive.com.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.