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Adaptation of ‘Christmas Carol’ lacks joy and grief

Charles Dickens’ enduring “A Christmas Carol” has influenced all things Christmas since it was published in 1843. The traditional ways in which we celebrate the Yuletide today, with sumptuous feasts, silly games, festive dances and spirited generosity are all a result of his cautionary tale.

Nevada Conservatory Theatre, through an adaptation by David H. Bell, presents the story with a cheerful picture of a Christmasy Victorian London, but without much of the underside of gritty poverty and despair so essential to the plot.

The stingy Ebenezer Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by ghostly apparitions who show him scenes of his past, present and future, which forces him to examine and reconsider his solitary life.

Through a grief-stricken realization that his unsympathetic ways have only gotten him scorn, he turns generous and loving and is transformed.

Scrooge’s transformation from miser to giver is the centerpiece of the story; but under the direction of Rick and Tammy Pessagno, the idea of redemption is neglected because we aren’t allowed, with the character, to experience it ourselves.

Through static staging, especially during travel time with each spook, we don’t see actor Dan Kremer react much upon viewing vignettes of his life, acted out evocatively in front of him and us as he watches from the sidelines.

While his Scrooge is perfectly “bah, humbug” as the play begins and joyous upon his change at the end, the in-between is missing. His performance is understated and internalized but also motionless here, so much so that joy and grief aren’t visible and his transformation lacks emotional power.

Also missing from the presentation is a general sense of misery and suffering, embodied by Scrooge’s clerk Cratchit (a nicely humble Sam Cordes), his wife (an energetic, optimistic Amber Bonasso) and family.

They are loving and lively despite living in poverty, proving that money doesn’t buy happiness and that togetherness is what counts.

There should be an undercurrent of sadness and weariness, but the family looks healthy and well-kept; an overwhelming cheeriness doesn’t allow despondence to peek through. Thus we don’t feel the huge chasm between the rich and poor, nor Dickens’ idea that the wealthy have a responsibility to the downtrodden. We should be moved with empathy by the Cratchits’ plight, but even Tiny Tim is so robust that sympathy isn’t aroused.

In the preface to his story, Dickens hoped for his readers, “May it haunt their house pleasantly.” The technical aspects of the production, directed by Megan Morey, mostly live up to this wish, adding a haunting eeriness, while not particularly scary.

The sound, designed by Brian Miller, gives evocative effects that are omnipresent throughout; the lighting, by Josh Wroblewski, maintains a warmth that highlights cheer, though an icy feel would illustrate the bitter cold the characters endure.

Costumes, designed by Judy Ryerson and coordinated by Jennifer Van Buskirk, are colorfully rich in texture, but poorer characters should wear clothes more threadbare.

The scenic design, by Dana Moran Williams, evokes industrial England, with earthy brick columns and cold scaffolding serving as the backdrop for different locales.

And Christopher Lash effectively directs the singing of Christmas carols, adding festivity to the show.

While not at the level of an ensemble, the women are energetic. Standouts include Victoria Spelman as Belle; Sydney Berg as Mrs. Fezziwig; and Ashley Patrice Bufkin as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Other notable cast members are Jack Lafferty as Fezziwig, Bernard C. Verhoeven as Fred, Alex Olson as Young Scrooge, and Darek Riley as Marley.

NCT’s production of “A Christmas Carol” gives a colorful, feel-good spirit to Dickens’ morality play without much of the grit. It’s full of cheer and a few spooks, and although it may not move emotionally, it’s fun to watch.

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