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A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas
December 3 - 20, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm
Saturday at 5 pm
Sunday at 2 pm
Reviewed December 11 by Brad Hathaway

 A Potomac Stages Pick for a familiar classic made fresh & memorable
Running time 2:00 - one intermission
Tickets $9 - $18
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We at Potomac Stages haven't seen every holiday-themed show playing within the region, but of the ones we have seen, Paul Morella's solo performance of Charles Dickens' classic using the original novella's text is by far the best. It is the most moving and the most memorable not only of the multiple versions of the story of Scrooge and his three ghostly visitors on Christmas eve, but - at least since the end of the run of GrooveLily's Striking 12 at Arena - it is the most entertaining of all the wide-range of holiday shows mounted this season. It is a demonstration not only of the individual talent of Mr. Morella, it is a confirmation of the ability of live theater to capture the audience's imagination - even if the audience is as small as it must be in this 99-seat hall. Those lucky enough to make it out to Gaithersburg this weekend for one of the remaining five performances will come away with a new view of the story Dickens intended to use to make his point of the importance of compassion, humanity and family devotion during a season that, year in and year out, always needs more and not less of all three.

Storyline: A single actor, using the words from Dickens' original novella, tells and performs the tale of the Christmas eve when mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas as the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, sends him the Ghost of Christmas Past to show him the error of his ways, the Ghost of Christmas Present to show him the opportunity to change and the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come to show him the consequences of failing to change.

We don't often use the string of superlatives you find in the first paragraph of this review - but we don't often review a show as successful at accomplishing what it sets out to do as does this seemingly simple but actually extremely well balanced set of efforts by conceivers, designers and performer. Others try to accomplish more and some succeed wonderfully with spectacle, masses of talented performers and special effects of all kinds. But to boil things down to their essence and then present that essence simply and effectively as a solo performance piece is extraordinarily difficult and here succeeds admirably. To top it off, the effort is extended in service to one of the most often presented stories. This is the sixteenth review we have published of various versions of A Christmas Carol at ten different venues so we have had a chance to see many different approaches to the material. None worked quite this well.

Morella prepared the piece after the success he had with his other solo show, A Passion for Justice, in which he brought Clarence Darrow to life for audiences first here at the Arts Barn and later at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Whether this piece will also transfer to Olney, or to any other venue, we don't know, but we certainly hope Morellla has the opportunity to present it again next season, and perhaps, in a venue where more people will have the chance to see it.

It isn't quite fair to say that Morella is alone out there on George Lockwood's simple set of area rugs, a desk, a chair and logs representing a fireplace. He has the assistance of  Earl Rogers' effective lights and he's wearing period clothing attributed to Jeanne Bland and Pei Lee. The single most important assist, however, comes from Edward Moser, who provides an evocative soundscape that helps Morella bring the time and place to life and not just the events. From horse hoof falls and creaking wagon wheels to the obligatory chimes of the hours in the dead of night, Moser reinforces what Morella is doing with taste and tact. Even the fog has a sound - which isn't exactly a simple process.

Adapted from the original novella by Charles Dickens. Directorial consultants Dan DeRaey and Helen Hedman. Design: George Lockwood (set) Jeanne Bland and Pei Lee (wardrobe) Andrew Conway (properties) Earl Rogers (lights) Edward Moser (sound). Cast: Paul Morella