Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009

Again: A Christmas Carol

By Russ Bickerstaff
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One day after thanksgiving, a respectable crowd attended opening night of Joseph Hanreddy’s last time directing The Milwaukee Rep’s A Christmas Carol as Artistic Director. (And, honestly, there’s a good chance that this is the last time he’s going to direct the show for the Rep.)  The annual show turns up on the stage of the historic Pabst Theatre just a bit different from the way it was last year. James Pickering returns as a very distinctively aggressive Ebenezer Scrooge being taken on a journey into the heart of the holiday by a series of ghosts.

The script seems just a bit more streamlined than it has been in the past. It’s nice to se the show tightened-up a bit, but some of the editing works to the detriment of the overall impact of the production. Scrooge’s interaction with the young beggar named Smudge early on in the story is cut down to the bare minimum here, which limits some of the crueler end of the character. Thankfully, the only real elements that have been entirely cut appear to have been tiny stylistic things.

Perhaps the biggest change from previous years comes in the form of Lee Ernst. He’s a talented actor who had previously appeared in the role of Scrooge. The character came across more comical when cast through Ernst. Such is usually the case when Ernst plays villains. His stage presence always comes across as something of a nice guy, which works exceedingly well in heroic roles. Even when he played Richard III a few years back, it was more of a comical look at the classic Shakespearian villain. Here he’s playing Marley. As we’re introduced to the character, Ernst makes for an interesting ghost of Marley. He seems extremely vulnerable and tortured. Very spooky. When Ernst is playing the live Marley in Christmas past, however, we don’t quite get the cutthroat businessman that we’ve seen in the past on the stage of the Pabst. Mark Corkins, who had played the role in the past, was far more menacing as a young Marley. Corkins also came across as a much more sinister Old Joe. The double-hatted peddler in Christmas future who buys the residue of Scrooge’s existence at the end of his life comes across a little seedy, but not sinister. This compromises the dark element of Christmas future, keeping it from becoming effectively haunting. Ernst is a really good actor, he just seems misplaced in these roles.

The changing  face of the production over the years has been interesting to watch. It’s nice to the charismatic face of Wayne T. Carr taking an active role in the  production. There’s a new Martha Cratchit this year in the form of 16 year-old Sydney Kirkegaard. Somewhere in the middle of its fourth decade, the show continues to be one of the most polished, high-end productions in town. It’s a classy night in a classy space.

Milwaukee Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 27th at the Pabst  Theatre. 


 

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