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A Christmas Carol for the 21st century

St. Albert's Ted Dykstra gives Scrooge a new life

REVIEW

A Christmas Carol

Runs until Dec. 23

Citadel Theatre

9828 – 101 Ave.

Tickets: Start at $25. Call 780-425-1820 or visit citadeltheatre.com

With trepidation, I sat down to watch the Citadel Theatre’s refreshed holiday production of A Christmas Carol. Would it charm as Tom Wood’s previous confection did?

Suffice it to say within the first 15 minutes I was completely drawn into the story and it was obvious the Citadel had produced an ambitious production that is intimate and deeply involving.

Playwright David van Belle's strong script has kept the original Dickensian story intact (with minor changes) while rewriting the language in a more modern context.

And director Daryl Cloran moves the action swiftly and smoothly from scene to scene with moments of pathos and introspection woven in between the laughter and theatricality.

At first glance, Cory Sincennes' set looks like a drab brick wall. What at first appears to be the featureless façade of an old building cleverly reveals its secrets as the story unfolds with counters, tables, boxes and empty tomb-shaped doors.

As Leigh Ann Vardy’s light design illuminates the stage, a collection of Victorian-dressed carolers sing in four-part harmony in front of Marley’s Department Store.

The Christmas cheer is broken as Ebenezer Scrooge (Ted Dykstra), dressed in a 1950s fedora and knee-length coat, yells, “Get away from my store.”

Although it is Christmas Eve, he goes on to roar: “Dressed up like it’s old-timey London. You look ridiculous.”

Once inside Marley’s, the old miser’s cruelty and sarcasm ratchets up several notches after a newly hired employee makes a small error.

“Since when do we hire defectives? You’re fired. Clean out your locker and get out of my store.”

This is a man whose stone-cold heart and never-ending greed knows no bounds. Trying to keep some semblance of sanity at the store is Mrs. Cratchit (Alison MacDonald), a widowed mother of six children whose husband was killed during the war.

Although initially surprising, the gender switch was a perfect match for an era where widows were forced into the labour market to feed their families and pay all the bills on meager salaries.

While Dykstra’s Scrooge is abusive to those around him, MacDonald’s Mrs. Cratchit is a sweet-tempered balm to the soul willing to give everyone a second chance. As MacDonald sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, her lush voice has a beautiful, aching quality that completely defines Mrs. Cratchit.

A much-awaited portion of this two-act production are the four spirits dragging Scrooge through his life. Marley (Julien Arnold), Scrooge’s former business partner, is the first – an eerie corpse of a man delivering warnings while chained to freakishly frightening spawns of hell.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Lilla Solymos) is garbed in a costume of ethereal lightness while her face has a whitish, starved cast. The Ghost of Christmas Present (John Ullyatt) is a delightful prankster who generates more than a few laughs.

And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Future is once more silent. But this figure looks more like a harbinger of death oddly biding his time to claim Scrooge.

However, it is Dykstra who is on stage virtually the entire show and succeeds mightily in giving us a believable transformation. From a blinkered, despicable individual to a man of humility and generosity, Dykstra embodies his character with numerous heart-clutching moments.

To me, A Christmas Carol was a delightful period piece that took place more than 175 years ago. However, this version has an added layer of reality that many in the audience remembered from their childhood – the clothes, the hair and the language.

What brought this production home for me was seeing Tiny Tim’s metal brace, a suggestion he may have suffered polio. Polio is a disease that peaked in Alberta in 1953 with 9,000 cases. I personally knew two children who were afflicted with polio – one in a leg brace, the other in an iron lung.

With its proximity to our times, this Christmas Carol has the ability to spark connections with people never before imagined. I can only hope it returns next year with Dykstra, the perfect Scrooge for the 21st century.


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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