Last week I went to Actors Theatre of Louisville to see a new production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Barbara Field. "New" is a relative term, actually, since this script has been used by The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis for quite a few years. It's a big improvement over the version ATL used for more than two decades, although I still prefer Howard Dallin's adaptation used by the Cincinnati Playhouse for 14 years, which is more heartfelt and less drawn to momentary humor. In Louisville, the set revolves to change scenes, but there were some slow moments (covered by music and other stage business) as the next scene is loaded onto the rear of the turntable. William McNulty is Scrooge, a role he's played for four consecutive years; he's a veteran of 15 Christmas Carols in Louisville. The Louisville casat includes Cincinnati husband-and-wife actors, DREW and SHERMAN FRACHER as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit and CHRIS CLAVELLI as Marley, harnessed in a set of chains that keep dragging him back into a smoking hole in the floor — it's a creepy, scary interpretation of the ghost, one that might scare some of the kids in attendance. The Frachers and Clavelli head upstream to the Queen City after Christmas Carol, which closes on Thursday, to play three of the four roles in Ensemble Theatre's upcoming production of Donald Margulies' compelling drama, Sight Unseen. Clavelli was half of the acting team for last season's Stones in His Pocket, also at ETC. ...
Even a "new" Christmas Carol wasn't enough to stop me from wishing that one or two theaters would find fresh material for holiday productions. (I've seen 10 shows this month, so forgive me if I'm a bit grinchy with all the good cheer.)
Ensemble Theatre earns points for its annual original musical, based on a fairytale; occasionally they revive one from a past season — this year it's SLEEPING BEAUTY (running until Tuesday) — polishing it with new actors, new songs and new stagings. Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival has announced it's stepping away from JACOB MARLEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (running through Thursday evening) so we'll have something new on Race Street next December — perhaps a Shakespearean comedy. Michael Shooner at New Edgecliff Theatre feels THE SANTALAND DIARIES might have run its course, so he's looking for new materials, although he loves David Sedaris' work. Not that he asked, but I have a few suggestions: How about Truman Capote's Holiday Memories, drawn from the writer's affectionate Depression-era memories of living with an elderly cousin in Monroeville, Ala. The script is based on two short stories, The Thanksgiving Visitor and A Christmas Memory. It's a solo piece, but with the right actor it can be truly heart-warming. For those who gravitate to the cynical side of the holiday street (like New Edgecliff and Know Theatre, whose The Eight: Reindeer Monologues still draws a strong crowd to Arnold's Bar & Grill, despite it's depressing ending), I'd suggest Christopher Durang's Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, a playful, cracked rendition of Scrooge's story from the perspective of the overwrought housewife, who plans to get drunk and jump off the London Bridge. I saw the show's world premiere at Pittsburgh's City Theatre two years ago: It's funny in a twisted, off-kilter way — the ghosts' magic keeps misfiring, and a few misplaced characters drop in unexpectedly, including Clarence, the angel from It's a Wonderful Life, and hotelier Leona Helmsley — so for a hip audience, it has a lot of laughs. My personal favorite is poet Dylan Thomas' charming holiday reminiscence, A Child's Christmas in Wales. New Gate Celtic Theatre Company staged it in mid-November (too early for the holidays, in my book) and just announced it for Nov. 11-20, 2005, at the Columbia Performance Center. I saw this show about a decade ago at Cleveland's Great Lakes Theatre Festival, and it was a charmer: nostalgic and loving without being sappy, with multiple levels of humor, a sort of British/Welsh version of the now-classic film, A Christmas Story. And by the way, if you need a last-minute gift suggestion, how about theater tickets? Some people won't buy them for themselves, but with a little encouragement, you might nurture a new theater fan.