Christmas classic gets tongue-in-cheek adaptation in Delaware

There’s a scene towards the end of “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge whirls around the stage with childlike abandon shouting “I’m as bright as a light and as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man.”

For many of us, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’s timeless tale of forgiveness and acceptance.

But a kinder, gentler Scrooge? Bah, humbug!

Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” has returned to the Delaware Theatre Company where it enjoyed its successful world premiere four years ago. The year after that it moved on to New York City and then to London’s West End the year after that. Barlow made some changes for the London run and those revisions have been incorporated into the DTC’s current production.

Purists needn’t worry; there are no surprise endings here. But there’s a lot of innovation and magical theatrical moments en route.

Barlow has whittled the cast to five actors—John Plumpis, Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Claire Inie-Richards, Eleni Delopoulos, Jonathan Silver—and two puppeteers, Betsy Rosen and Michael Boudewyns. Except for Plumpis who plays Scrooge, all of the actors play multiple roles. Each character is precisely executed with appropriate accent and mannerism.

Plumpis’s Scrooge is energetic and witty, a far cry from Dickens’ crusty curmudgeon. In Barlow’s adaptation he is a banker who charges 100 percent interest on the money he lends. It’s not that he bears any ill will towards the poor; he’s only asking for market rates. Yet he is also marvelously poignant in those moments of genuine pathos as Scrooge confronts his painful past on his way to redemption.

Hawkins is equally excellent as he moves with ease from the hapless Cratchit to Marley’s Ghost to Scrooge’s long-ago boss Mr. Fezziwig as well as various others.

Inie-Richards also shows considerable versatility as she morphs from the poverty-stricken Mrs. Lack to the stern Mrs. Grimes then to the hilarious Ghost of Christmas Present and others.

Delopoulos shines as she brings to life Mrs. Cratchit, Constance and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her interaction with Scrooge as she portrays his mother is one of the plays most poignant moments.

Silver ably projects a panoply of diverse personae, including the stern Mr. Grimes, the sensitive, refined Frederick and the sinister Ghost of Christmas to Come.

Rounding out the cast are Aaron Cromie’s wonderful puppets expertly maneuvered by Rosen and Boudewyns. The Cratchit children come to life as bonnets that bob as they “talk.” Tiny Tim is truly minuscule in this production: a stalwart puppet determined to lift himself to the dinner table without assistance. Rosen and Boudewyns also produce “snow” by showering customers to Scrooge’s office with white confetti which is held in a black bucket labeled—appropriately—”snow.” They also serve as stagehands, effortlessly moving props to and fro with impeccable precision.

The actors are supported with superb work from the artistic crew. Stefanie Hansen’s stripped-down set with its movable props is both imaginative and functional, evoking the atmosphere of the streets of Victorian London yet providing ample space for the actors to ply their craft.

Eileen T. Smitheimer’s sound effects and Matthew Richards’s lighting design underscore the terror of the ghosts. Smitheimer even incorporates the “Psycho” theme as the Ghost of Christmas Present pursues Scrooge with a giant candy cane.

Barbara Hughes’s costumes are period- and class- appropriate as well as respectful of the quick changes the cast must make. Denise O’Brien of Custom Wig & Hair Creations tops things off with both whimsical and functional designs.

The energetic production comes together under the nimble and capable direction of Steve Tague, who draws outstanding performances from this talented troupe.

So God bless us everyone. But especially Charles Dickens whose immortal message of spiritual rebirth will endure for countless Christmases to Come no matter what the interpretation.

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If you go:

What: Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in an adaptation by Patrick Barlow
When: Now through December 30th
Where: Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington
Tickets and times: www.delawaretheatre.org or 302-594-1100

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