‘I wear the chains I forged in life!” This ghostly report from the doomed spirit of Jacob Marley is among the most famous supernatural utterances in English literature.
It’s also a fair metaphor for the heavy weight of responsibility carried by any theater company brave enough to stage Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. This unstoppably popular story has been around for better than 170 years, and along the way it has forged a long and weighty chain of expectations, adorations, misinterpretations, criticisms, dismissals and the weird, unkind backlashes that spring from any legendary story’s overfamiliarity.
Among the many reasons that 6th Street Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Carol is one of the best surprises of 2015 is that it embraces everything that has made the tale so enduring while blazing new trails and finding fresh possibilities in what has, in some adaptations, become stale and predictable.
With a strong, adaptable cast, an inventive script by Michael Wilson, sprightly, emotion-focused direction from Craig Miller and a delightfully steam-punk production design, this incarnation of the classic also makes maximum use of actor Charles Siebert as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Siebert rarely performs on local stages, and his North Bay appearances are always occasions to celebrate. As Scrooge, Siebert is fancifully mesmerizing and terrifically, touchingly real.
As Marley—materializing to deliver a dire warning to his former business partner—Alan Kaplan is wickedly, wackily menacing and also heartbreakingly earnest. Miller has assembled a trio of comic actors as the spirits of Christmas (Jessica Headington, Nick Christenson and Ryan Severt) who deliver delightfully spectral comedy while consistently landing sharp, emotional punches.
The large, multi-age cast—with notably strong performances by Jeff Coté as Bob Cratchit, Harry Duke as Fezziwig and Crystal Carpenter as Belle—works incredibly well as a shape-shifting, character-changing, scenery-moving ensemble.
Particular praise must be given to Miller’s technical team, whose clockwork set (Jesse Dreikosen), mood-making lights (Steven Piechocki) and otherworldly sound design (Miller, with John Gromada) are some of the best seen at 6th Street in many a Christmas.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½