I’m not sure there is a more iconic fictional story during the holiday season than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There are so many theatres around me who are playing various stage adaptations of the novella (speaking of which, why not do some others? I’ve been dying to see the Elf musical or the musical version of A Christmas Story? What about White Christmas?) but there was only one production that I had an interest in seeing — a one-man show adaptation starring Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays and directed by two-time Tony Award-nominee, Michael Arden (whose work I’ve seen in Deaf West Spring Awakening and Once on This Island). If I never see another production of A Christmas Carol again, I think I’ll be fine after having seen this spectacular adaptation.
Admittedly, when I first heard about this production I was skeptical. A one-man show? Really? I figured I would wait and see what other Christmas productions local theatres were doing before I committed and then the reviews came in. It earned high praise from almost every major reviewer, including a coveted Ovation recommendation, and since it’s at one of my favorite venues, The Geffen Playhouse in Downtown LA, why not, right? This particular adaptation is not your typical charmer, it stays true to the roots of the story and is, by all means, a great ghost story. Did you know it used to be a tradition to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve? The king of all these stories is now, of course, A Christmas Carol and through his one-man adaptation, this production really captures the story as though it were relayed to you one chilly Christmas Eve night with full intention to be creepy when the spirits allow, funny when the characters allow, and heart-warming as we so often think of it.
Jefferson Mays is a true gift to the theatre community. This wouldn’t be the first time anyone has seen him take on multiple characters in a production: during his Tony Award-nominated performance as eight members of the D’Ysquiths he endured around 9,000 deaths by the time the production closed.
Portraying multiple characters in a performance is pretty much Mays’ specialty at this point in his career. Mays offers such an exquisite performance during his uninterrupted 90 minute recounting of A Christmas Carol. Each character has his or her own distinct voice and body language that Mays so effortlessly switches between, it’s easy to forget there’s only one actor on stage.
Aiding Mays’ incredible performance is a perfectly coordinated lighting design and set design. As Mays switches between Scrooge and another character the lighting changes with him to help the change. My favorite example was during the scene in which Marley confronts Scrooge to warn him of the ghosts who will visit him. Each time Scrooge spoke he cowered in his arm-chair, bathed in a warm orange glow from his fireplace, and as Marley speaks Mays will straighten up, arms raised , jaw slack and the lighting will switch to a chilling blue.The set pieces on the turntable move in and out of the scene like Mays is walking through the pages of a book so fluidly. It’s incredible. The music, both the instrumental tracks and the aptly chosen Christmas themed songs, enhance the story telling. I particularly enjoy the somber version of “Silver and Gold” to further illustrate Scrooge’s descent into greed.
The whole experience of A Christmas Carol is worthwhile. The ambiance of the theatre as you walk in is perfectly moody. A dimly lit stage with a setting for a funeral. I had a seat on one of the far edges of the orchestra so it was hard for me to see exactly what it was since it was framed so delicately by the dark curtains. As they cut the lights to begin the performance there was a huge bang that caused a handful of people to scream which made me a little nervous, I’ll admit, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a play where so many people would scream and be disruptive that way but they reeled me back in effortlessly. Mays starts his performance in complete darkness and lights candles on the cold and dismal stage. Have you ever seen a better introduction to a chilling tale than having a single man on a stage with a small candle? Surrounded by what feels like infinite darkness? So smart! So well executed!
I can’t more strongly recommend to you a this production of A Christmas Carol. It’s running through December 16th at Geffen Playhouse. You can get tickets from Goldstar or through the Geffen website. And if I haven’t convinced you enough to go, I’ll leave you with this last bit of praise from Becca, one of my best friends, roommate, and frequent theatre buddy, who said she finally understood what I mean when I come home after an amazing show and boldly proclaim “Theatre gives me life” like the true dweeb that I am. We’ve seen a lot of show together in the last three years so I have to wonder how she didn’t get it before….but…..at least she gets it now thanks to this incredible production. Go, go, go, go, go!