There's just something magical about holiday events. Maybe it's the tradition. Maybe it's the cool weather and the Christmas lights glowing along the streets. Whatever it is that makes these moments so special, the Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol has it.
The IRT has performed this Charles Dickens classic for decades and has become a holiday favorite among Indianapolis-area residents. A Christmas Carol runs annually during the traditional Christmas season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Just like the Circle of Lights celebration, the opening of the production symbolizes the holiday season in Indy. So when I was offered the opportunity to attend and see what all the hype was about, I was thrilled.The Story
Charles Dickens was raised in poverty and his collection of literary classics reflect this. Much like Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol centers around an impoverished family and their struggles. Bob Cratchit is a clerk for Ebenezer Scrooge - a rich and bitter man who has let greed and hatred control him for years. The perfect parallel to Scrooge, Bob Cratchit barely earns enough to feed the family he happily comes home to each night - including the smallest and crippled child, Tiny Tim.
On Christmas Eve, Scrooge goes to bed infuriated that his business must stop for the holiday. Before he goes to sleep, he is haunted by his old business partner, Jacob Marley, who bemoans the greedy and unfriendly way he lived his life. He warns Scrooge that he will be visited that night by three spirits but that their intent is good. True to Marley's word, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future arrive and force Scrooge to evaluate his current life. The journey through these Christmas images makes Scrooge realize that he doesn't want to die alone and despised. When Scrooge wakes up, he is alive with the Christmas spirit and sets out to right the wrongs he's made.The Performance
Two things immediately struck me about this particular performance of A Christmas Carol. Immediately, the audience will notice that the characters narrate the play themselves. This direct narrative results in characters actually describing the scene as they act it - speaking right at the audience. This isn't a completely unique method of narration, but what does make it unique is that instead of having just one, nearly every character is a narrator. This playful way of speaking directly to the audience creates an intimacy. It's a wise technique for a story that celebrates camaraderie.
The second thing that I instantly noticed was how often the characters speak in unison. Often while describing the scene to the audience in direct narrative, several characters speak the lines at once. Having participated in more than one unison prayer, I know it's no small feat to get the timing perfect. But they did. I imagine there was a lot of practice involved with that - especially considering how many children are in the play.
The set is whimsical and fun, complete with tons of falling snow. The cast is constantly leaving the stage through a set of trap doors on the stage floor. While there wasn't a ton of large set pieces, a large frame is used often throughout the play. Sometimes the frame is a doorway, sometimes it is a mirror and sometimes it is a store window.The Cast
What sets this production apart from others at the IRT is that many of the actors perform in A Christmas Carol every year. The play is not only a tradition for their audience but also for themselves. Despite that, the cast is never entirely the same from year to year. Because this play is an annual event and the actors change, I won't comment on any one particular actor's performance. I will say, however, that it is a well-oiled machine and it is obvious that a lot of time goes into rehearsals and that many of the actors have been in this production for years. The Set
The IRT's production stays true to Dickens' original setting in 19th century London. It's a festive set complete with lots of greenery, holly and of course, snow. The snow, as I learned in an question and answer session following the performance, is made out of recycled milk jugs. It falls prettily onto the stage throughout the performance and looks realistic. The Victorian scenery with the oil-lit lamps and period furniture add to the story. The simple table, for instance, in the Cratchit home, says more about their poverty than any narration. The Costumes
Much like the set, the costumes have a story to tell of their own. Scrooge's dreary clothes for the majority of the play are in vast contrast to his proper holiday attire at the end when he joins the villagers in Christmas revelries. The same is true for the elaborate dresses worn by the ladies at Fred's (Scrooge's nephew) party in comparison to the clothing of London's poor. Through costumes, the social commentaries that Dickens conveyed in his works become even more evident. The Review
I really enjoyed the IRT's performance of A Christmas Carol. It gave me that warm, Christmas feeling that I expected and yet wasn't cheesy. As always, I enjoy the intimate setting of the IRT and older, historic theater. I liked that they stayed true to the traditional story and setting. I think if they'd tried to modernize this holiday classic, I would have been disappointed. Despite being traditional, they did a lot of unique things such as direct narrative, the use of actors as props or furniture and creative entrances. As far as Indianapolis holiday traditions go, I think this production will always top the list.
The IRT's production of A Christmas Carol plays every holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information, contact the IRT at 317-635-5252.