Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

Victorian set, campy approach both work

A Christmas Carol
Written by Charles Dickens
Adapted by D.W. Jacobs
Original music and arrangements by Steve Gunderson
Directed by Tadd Salovey

San Diego REPertory Theatre
Lyceum Stage Theatre
Horton Plaza, San Diego, Calif.
Through Dec. 29

While San Diego REP's annual production of "A Christmas Carol" is one of the favorite traditions of area theater-goers, it's also the least-predictable. You may know exactly what you're getting with the Globe's "Grinch" year in and year out, but with the REP and Charles Dickens' holiday tale the only certainty is change.

And so after two years of presenting Scrooge and Co. in a circus setting, the REP has taken the story back to its Victorian roots. Mostly. Or at least sort of.

While Giolio Cesare Perrone's set and costumes (excepting the men's tuxedos, which didn't exist yet in 1800s England) are Victorian, and the dialogue stays true to Dickens, the presentation is very campy. There are lots of asides and smirks and self-aware banter between characters that keep this production from ever taking itself too seriously.

A Christmas Carol

At the heart of the self-aware aspect of this production is the role of Dickens himself, as narrator. Wonderfully drawn by Jonathan McMurtry, Dickens is a constant presence on stage — not only providing introductory narration to the various scenes, but injecting humor into the story by prodding characters along or assuring Scrooge that indeed he must say a certain line.

McMurtry has such warm presence and precise timing that for the most part this all works, only occasionally getting a little too cute.

In fact, McMurtry is so good as Dickens that he nearly outshines Sean Thomas Murray as Scrooge. Murray doesn't have the stage persona of McMurtry, and his version of Scrooge is of a man more puzzled than bitter, not so much cold-hearted as simply lost.

The one real fault with this year's production is in the pace — the dialogue is too hurried throughmuch of the evening. Dickens' wonderful sense of timing and rhythm is destroyed by the quickened pace, removing much if not all of the dramatic suspense. It's difficult for Scrooge to find enlightenment when the ghosts seem to be constantly hurrying him around the stage.

But this is not a tale new to many, and so the cast's enthusiastic efforts — especially those of the charming Ari Lerner as Tiny Tim, and Susan Mosher in a variety of roles allow the audience to lose themselves in as classic a holiday story as has yet been woven.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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