In its sixth incarnation at the Long Beach Playhouse, now through Dec. 23, A Christmas Carol has become a seasonal staple. This year’s atmospheric production, adapted from Charles Dickens’s classic and directed by Chris Mertan, is quick-paced and eerily rather than cheerily captivating for children and adults alike.
Set in 1850s London, with real fog (not smog) as thick as pea soup, the tale centers on excessively shrewd and frugal businessman Ebenezer Scrooge (Jack Murphy), who is utterly resistant to holiday spirit.
Despite coaxing by his ebullient nephew Fred (Brendan Kane), impoverished employee Cratchit (Alex Reed) and two collectors of alms for the poor (Kane and Michael Kaye), Scrooge will not yield, choosing to spend Christmas Eve alone eating gruel.
No less than four otherworldly apparitions (three scary, one jolly) visit Scrooge that night to try to convince him that his path will only lead to further darkness. First up is zombie-esque Marley (J.D. Rinde), Scrooge’s former business partner, whose spirit wanders in heavy chains representing his selfishness while alive.
The somber Ghost of Christmas Past (a highly articulate young Carmel Artstein) then leads Scrooge on a tour through his life, highlighting when he had love but lost it. The very merry Ghost of Christmas Present (Kaye) opens Scrooge’s eyes to the lives and families of nephew Fred and employee Cratchit, including Cratchit’s crippled youngest, Tiny Tim (Lola Alonso).
Finally, the darkly shrouded and scarily silent Ghost of Christmas Future simply points a bony finger to show Scrooge the direction of his (and Tiny Tim’s) fate should he persist in his misery mentality.
Will Scrooge get the message and change his ways? Or was it all just a very bad dream?
Murphy as Scrooge, Artstein as a ghost and Reed as Cratchit hold their own as pivotal characters, but it’s Kane and Kaye who shine, infusing the play with welcome energy and humor in their various roles, which they seem to truly enjoy playing.
Quick pacing means all the actors scramble to change sets and move positions as scenes shift between Scrooge’s office and bedroom, the family-filled homes of Fred and Cratchit and the busy streets of London, not to mention other places both past and future.
A minimal set design, anchored by a giant wooden window, helps, as do music (Sean Gray) and lighting (Donny Jackson) that create just the right tone (from gleeful to gloomy) for each scene.
Especially clever staging is exemplified when Scrooge throws bags of money out the window to a boy behind a curtain in the street who yells, “Ow!” as if being hit. That sheer curtain is also used with special lighting to create creepy effects.
Long Beach Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol is thus a haunting tale briskly and engagingly told. “Bah humbug!” you say? Be careful you don’t “scrooge” yourself out of a potentially life-altering holiday experience!
A Christmas Carol continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through Dec. 23, with shows Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $20 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.