By Kimberly Rau
Trinity Rep is famous for its annual re-telling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and possibly even more renowned for turning the tale on its head every year, reimagining some or all of the concept to make things different.
This year’s production, directed by Stephen Thorne, is a perfect blend of tradition and interpretation. We’re still in Dickensian England, and the characters are largely the same (more on that in a bit), but the staging and special effects take things up a notch, including a ghoulish entrance for Jacob Marley and a truly creepy ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
When casting the children’s ensemble for the show, Trinity specifically sought children with neurodivergent diagnoses, though this isn’t particularly highlighted in any obvious way, apart from Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim, normally shown with a crutch and having health issues, is now on the Autism spectrum. Instead of accommodating physical disabilities, the Cratchit family makes room for Tim’s big heart, which wants to pray for every person on the street, recite the sermon along with the vicar, and wish every person he can think of a Merry Christmas. (Yes, it’s still implied he will pass away without some intervention to alleviate the family’s impoverished state, but it’s not directly tied to his being neurodivergent.)
While public commentary on social media has been somewhat divided on this choice, it’s a beautiful way to recognize that not all struggles are immediately visible to those on the outside, and in no way detracts from the story. On the contrary, it makes it even more relatable. (One might question whether those who stridently insist that the only way to do a show is to perform it exactly as it’s written, with no deviation whatsoever, are missing a chance for some personal exploration and growth via this character.)
Mauro Hantman is a phenomenal Scrooge, the perfect blend of miserly and curmudgeonly, which makes his transformation at the end all the more notable. Guiding him along his journey are Jeff Church, who plays both the ghosts of Christmas Past and Yet to Come, and Taavon Gamble as the ghost of Christmas Present. Both actors are fantastic, and it is with these roles that costume designer Toni Spadafora-Sadler really went all out. Church’s futuristic ghost costume is spooky and otherworldly. Gamble is resplendent in one of the most amazing ensembles I’ve seen on Trinity’s stage.
Richard Donelly plays a benevolent and charismatic Fezziwig, Scrooge’s first true boss, who is proclaimed to be the best employer in the world by his workers. Because Donelly is so warm, it is all the more perplexing that Scrooge has become so wounded, at least until we see more of his past unfold.
“A Christmas Carol” is performed in the round, allowing each audience member to get a unique perspective of the show. Since it is such an ensemble piece, no matter where you’re sitting, there’s something good to see in every scene (make sure you look up, too). The set is fairly simple, but that serves to let the story shine on its own merits, and shine it does.
Whether you’re a theater purist or someone who loves a fresh take on old classics, you’ll find something to love in this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Bring the kids, bring your parents, bring the guy down the road who thinks “inclusive” is a dirty word. You’ll all leave happy that you went.