Seasonal Boughs of Folly 

Great Lakes' annual fling with Dickens brings out the inner child in all of us.

While meditating to my Barbra Streisand Christmas album, I was in a quandary as to how, after nine annual viewings of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival's A Christmas Carol, I could possibly review its tenth-anniversary production with the freshness and wonder of the inner child it was intended for. Just as Babs got to "Jingle Bells," I had an epiphany: I would rent a child to be my eyes and ears.

Donning my Tiny Tim muffler, I headed to the local prep school and appropriated somebody's nephew, little Jeón. Whipping the reindeer, we mushed to the Ohio Theatre, where A Christmas Carol will be spreading its relentless good cheer through December 27.

Once again, there is a stage bedecked with gingerbread; Victorian atmosphere with fiendish orange gargoyle eyes embedded in the furniture of Scrooge's boudoir; Daliesque clocks sounding the hours of the spirits' visitations; giddy maidens in bouncing curls cooking the Christmas goose and lighting the plum pudding; the towering Ghost of Christmas Future--all this seen through dense patches of London fog.

Then, there is that stirring moment which caused little Jeón to drop his sticky lollypop on my lap as the walls split asunder, revealing miners in the bowels of the earth emerging, as in a Turner painting, to sing carols and show a whole world besotted by Yuletide spirit.

Thanks to the whimsical rich tones of John Payonk's Fezziwig and James Kall's enchanting, fawn-like Bob Cratchit, this ten-year-old production has an added freshness and robustness often lacking in other Carols. Sharon Bicknell's gracious narrator and mother of the Prologue imbue the evening with a gentle, Victorian femininity, while Maryann Nagel's Mrs. Cratchit supplies a rum punch.

During Intermission, I commented to little Jeón how Gerald Friedman's adaptation of Dickens remains "an artful blend of Victorian Gothic and Currier and Ives warmth."

Little Jeón replied: "I liked it better with Mr. Magoo." I countered with: "Don't you think Dudley Swetland's savvy Scrooge illustrates both the dark and light side of that grasping old sinner, making his delightful redemption even more plausible?" Quoth little Jeon: "You promised me a brownie."

On the technical side, the magical beams of the Fujimura spotlight added a spiritual glow to the proceedings, turning the Ohio Theatre into a living Cruikshank panorama.

"And what nuggets of wisdom did you find in this ever-so-jolly tenth-anniversary production?" queried ye critic.

Replied Jeon through a mouthful of half-chewed brownie, as he held out his dimpled palm for a promised twenty-spot: "I have been inspired by the wonders of this thrilling piece of theater to renounce henceforward all my evil ways, amend my life, and never again shoot the little girl next door with my B.B. gun."

To which I tearfully replied: "God bless us, every one!"--Joseph

A Christmas Carol, through December 27, at the Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1511 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000.

More by Keith A. Joseph


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