In 1843, prolific British author Charles Dickens decided he needed a new work that would be both “profitable and popular.”
Putting quill to paper, he hit the literary jackpot in only six weeks with “A Christmas Carol.”
Since its initial publication, Dickens’ story of an elderly miser and his ghostly redemption has remained a holiday favorite, a fact which has its pluses and minuses.
It has never been out of print and has been done, redone and done again in films, opera, radio, ballet, television and theater, probably more than any other one piece of literature.
For the most part, that’s the plus.
It has often tempted others to put their own stamp on Dickens’ work, most often with less-than-successful results, obviously ignoring the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
That’s the minus, especially as it relates to the current production by the South Bend Civic Theatre which has been given a local setting by adapter David Chudzynski.
Blending the Victorian era “Carol” with the plight of a South Bend family facing the impending closure of the Studebaker plant in 1963 is awkward at best. At worst, it offers two hours of confusing“drama” with only a very few high spots. And it is definitely jarring to find the Fezziwigs doing The Twist!
Director Kevin Dreyer must share some of the responsibility for players who seem mostly to mumble and/or talk to the floor. Those who don’t — Allan W. Holody as the chain-rattling spectre of Marley; Maureen Wojciechowski as a ludicrously costumed, tell-it-like-it-is Ghost of Christmas Present; Frank Quirk as a full-bearded Scrooge looking more like “A Miracle on 34th Street,” and Mary Ann Moran as a plant official, a donation solicitor and a greedy ragpicker — are high spots in frequently indecipherable passages.
Since most of the actors are required to play at least two and sometimes three era-spanning characters, there is little establishment of individual personas. Those in the “original” fare better, being by now familiar to anyone who has read, seen or heard the story
Eight “Workers” march on periodically, a la a Greek chorus, to supply narrative bridges with, unfortunately, varying degrees of vocal projection.
The two-tiered set designed by Michaela Duffy works very well as Scrooge’s counting house (below) and his living quarters (up), as well as other locations old and new, with moveable stairs allowing ghosts and spirits easy access journeying from past to present to future.
There are no hesitant sound effects (the thunder really cracks!) and costumes are mostly minimal and represent no period in particular, rather like this production.
‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ plays through Dec. 20 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N.Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.