Hedgerow Re-imagines Their Holiday Classic: A CHRISTMAS CAROL

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

~ Charles Dickens

For 22 years Delaware County’s Resident Ensemble theatre company, Hedgerow, has gifted the area with an annual production of the Dickens classic about Ebenezer Scrooge, and this season is no exception. Executive Director Penelope Reed is once again at the helm; performances of Nagle Jackson’s adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL will run from December 5th to the 28th, with several matinees during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL was first published in 1843, and the novella met with instant success. The idea of “holiday cheer” had been greatly suppressed during the Puritans reign in Britain. The season had lost all of its joy. The British populace was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions. It was also during this era that new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were introduced. Hungry for a return of joy and celebration—and seeking meaning in the season—the public was enchanted by this heartwarming tale of redemption.

Charles Dickens was a champion of the underdog and used his fiction to point out the many inequities in British society. He was writing during the great Industrial Age when many were living in horrible conditions. He created rich vibrant characters and used humor in many cases to point out society’s shortcomings. During a brief conversation with Reed following the opening night performance she explained how she approached the piece this year with a concentration on the conditions of the children during Dickens’ time. Many were impoverished, forced to work long hours in factories or mines to help support their families. She and the cast discussed Dickens’ advocacy for the education of these children to allow them a better future. She also stated she wanted to draw parallels to our current educational issues. During her tenure at Hedgerow, Reed has greatly expanded their Community Outreach and Educational programming, so it’s important to her to (like Dickens) advocate. The result of this fresh focus is a streamlined production with a very clear message.

Drawing on his own impoverished childhood for many of his stories, Dickens also used family members as inspiration for characters. He had a sister named Fan (Scrooge’s sister in the novella) who died young; she was the mother of a son who was crippled—the inspiration for Tiny Tim. Using a core group to play the key characters, Reed also employs additional guest artists and theatre school students to round out the ensemble—with many rotating in various characters. Stacy Skinner and Grey Kelsey, who support each other wonderfully, provide ongoing narration. In addition, the two take on such characters as the two business folk seeking a donation from Scrooge—as well as lending their lovely voices to the many Victorian carols sung throughout. Newcomer David Psaris does a terrific job as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, with frequent guest artist Madelyn DeFelice turning in a solid performance as Fred’s wife and Scrooge’s first love, Belle.

Company Members Lily Dwoskin, Brock Vickers and Colleen Marker are sort of “utility infielders,” essaying several characters each. Dwoskin nicely runs the gamut from Scrooge’s sister Fan to the boy who fetches the turkey for Scrooge at the end. Marker beautifully morphs from the Ghost of Christmas Past to a giggly guest at Fred’s party. Vickers handles such diverse characters as Topper and Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come with equal dexterity. As both Marley’s Ghost and Ghost of Christmas Present, guest artist Jim Fryer had the children shivering in their seats. Company Member Shaun Yates turns in his usual solid performance as both Dick Wilkens and Bob Cratchit. Resident Joel Guerrero gives the viewer a spry Fezziwig and then creeps you out as the smarmy Old Joe.

Hedgerow mainstay Zoran Kovcic is terrific as Scrooge. Many choose to play him as a crotchety mean-spirited old man, but Kovcic gives us a man who believes his way is the right way and can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t see it. It’s an interesting, much more layered portrayal than most I’ve seen. Finally, there’s Tiny Tim…. Quentin Reed (6th generation in his family to “trod the boards”) sends the cuteness factor right through the roof. He is most believable as a sickly crippled child from Victorian London. Space limitations prevent me from naming everyone in the rotating casts, but suffice it to say I’m sure no matter which permutation is onstage when you attend, you will be seeing a company well-directed and clearly communicating a wonderful story.

Strong technical work supports the piece perfectly—from Kovcic’s simple yet elegant set to Jared Reed’s evocative lighting. In addition, Cathy Miglionico has created some beautifully detailed Victorian costumes that are quite lovely to look at (I wanted a couple of them), and Shaun Yates has done a terrific job of directing the cast in executing several Victorian carols in beautiful harmonies.

While A CHRISTMAS CAROL has clearly struck a chord with people for almost 200 years, with its images of warmth, familial love, joy and lightness, it also shows the despair and suffering many fell victim to at that time. Again, there are many parallels to issues facing the majority of Americans today—the “working poor.” Scrooge’s redemption offers us all hope that there is a brighter future if we learn to place the well-being of our fellow man above greed. Wouldn’t that be the best Christmas gift ever?

From the novella by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Nagle Jackson
Directed by Penelope Reed
December 5—28, 2014
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Media, PA 19063

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