A Winter Night’s Rite

Scrooge and the gang take the stage again.

As you’ve no doubt heard  ‘tis the season to be jolly. And it’s a time when folks everywhere partake of sacred and secular rites. Non-religious ones include such things as going to concerts, ballets and theatre where tried and true themes and stories are re-visited, re-connectimg with the comfortably familiar. Although such performances may be presented with great artistry,skill and talent, that result comes secondary to providing comfort and joy for audiences.

So it is that every year at this time somewhere some theatre company is providing a renewed production of someone’s stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ celebrated 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. There are many. For the producers, it’s a fine way to profit. For the audiences, it’s a gregarious affirmation of community and family. 

And it has come to pass that Omaha Community Playhouse again gives local audiences, as it has for lo these many years, an adaptation by Charles Jones who has said that he thinks of his version   “as a masque.” This suggests not really a play or a musical comedy but rather an entertainment involving myth, story and song. FYI: Jones is a former Playhouse artistic director and created this script in 1976.

The result becomes a friendly two and a half hour spectacle wherein Dickens’ details are the bones of the concept but his rich language is down-sized in favor of more visual activity, including much stage business designed to amuse and charm, plus 17 traditional songs and a few lively dances. Local citizens ably undertake a wide array of roles most of which seem decorative rather than substantial.  

The serviceable staging by three directors, Carl Beck, Susan Baer Collins and Amy Lane creates a vivid  presentation which seems to avoid being overly dark and, instead, favors much light-hearted laughter.  (FYI: Beck and Collins are Artistic Directors at the Playhouse. Lane is local.) Jim Othuse’s sets and Georgiann Regan’s costumes do a fine job of making the whole experience a colorful, professional-quality pageant. And all of the cast’s singing, under the musical direction of Jim Boggess, sounds quite pleasing. 

At the center, Jerry Longe reprises for the eighth year the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. His and his directors’ take suggests an elderly man in his second childhood, rather than some kind of snarling, nasty, mean and horrible creature. This takes away from the presumed drama of the miser’s redemption but instead creates someone nearly charming, in a child-like way, underscored by Longe’s constant howling, wailing and trembling while confronted by the supernatural. Big baby. 

Assessing this project from a too serious and critical viewpoint makes no sense. Attending is a beloved ritual which needs no close examination or explanation. 

A Christmas Carol continues through December 23 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha. 7:30 p.m. $18-39. More info at http://www.omahaplayhouse.com 402.553.0800

posted at 08:36 pm
on Sunday, December 01st, 2013

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