Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of my all-time favorite yuletide tales, but you can have too much of a good thing. I mean, truthfully, with so many local theatrical companies putting on adaptations of the 1843 story year after year, I have suffered a bit of Ebenezer Scrooge fatigue.
With that in mind, I saw and liked Solano Repertory Theatre Company’s version last year and, thus, I fully expected that I would like it again this year. What I didn’t expect was that I would love it.
But I did.
Solano Rep’s “A Christmas Carol: A Holiday Tradition” succeeds primarily because director Carla Spindt kept what worked last year – in fact, improved upon it – and removed what didn’t.
One of the major changes this year is the location. Last year, it was staged at Suisun City’s Harbor Theatre, but the 2013 version was performed in the much more intimate black box stage at the Missouri Street Theater.
The blurred lines between the audience and actors as they wished us a Merry Christmas while walking so close I had to move my feet lest they trip, drew us into the the mirth and merriment of the season they were portraying. It also made the bone-chilling fright that Scrooge experienced with the unexpected visit by the ghost of Jacob Marley that much more visceral.
There was a farcical little bit involving Scrooge’s dead body last year that, to me, seemed out of place. It was removed and less was definitely more.
Many of the same actors reprised their roles, and chief among them was the repertory theater’s president Dan Clanton as Scrooge. He fully explored and delivered his character’s arc that goes from crotchety and cantankerous curmudgeon to Christmas cheerleader.
Christopher Mantione was once again the chained ghost of Jacob Marley and brought the creepy. When he began his wrenching, spooky howling, my wife scrunched closer to me. The best part of Mantione’s performance was actually not watching him, but his effect on a little wide-eyed girl in the front row leaning into her mother with her fingers stuck in her ears.
Courtney Yuen nailed her role as the Ghost of Christmas Past, wearing a stunningly ornate gown. And what can I say about Bobby Ellison returning as the Ghost of Christmas Present? The man lights up the stage like he has a built-in personal spotlight. His infectious jocular laugh made me smile and laugh so much I almost pulled a face muscle.
Without revealing exactly what they were, I liked the simple yet effective asides that were added this year that engaged the audience, enhanced Ellison’s character and added flavor without being a distraction.
Justin Hernandez returned as Bob Cratchit (albeit with a different Mrs. Cratchit – played ably this year by Salina Conse) as did Brian Hulse as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Both gave nuanced and delightful performances once again.
Michelle Willson as Mrs. Fezziwig was a new face in the production and she shined. A special shout out to all of the children in the show for doing such a wonderful job.
The show is brief, about an hour, and as Spindt explained in the pre-show welcome, there really is no place to put an intermission in a show such as this. The timeless story of the miserable miser becoming enlightened before it is too late is given a warm and thoroughly entertaining treatment. This is one Christmas gift the whole family can enjoy.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.