If you are like me, you’ve grown up seeing the annual performance of A Christmas Carol at your local repertory company. Still, I bet you’ve never seen it from the lens of A Commedia Christmas Carol, the Faction of Fools’ latest undertaking to fuse 16th century Italian theater with stage classics.
At first thought, A Christmas Carol may not seem suited for rendering into a commedia dell' arte version. But Faction of Fools’ Founding Artistic Director, Matthew R. Wilson’s adaption easily finds inspiration for many of Dicken’s characters in the rich tradition of A Commedia’s archetypes. Scrooge (Paul Riesman) is the miserly Pantalone, Jacob Marley (Toby Mulford) as il Dottore; Bob Cratchit (Joel David Santner) is a servant-like Arlecchino, and Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Tyler Herman), portrays an eloquent innamorato.
True to any of the Fools’ plays, there are plenty of laughter inducing moments scattered throughout, which often provide relief for the more serious moments. In the beginning, Cratchit’s fruitless attempts to keep the office door closed, and the cold air out, function as slapstick on the periphery of Scrooge’s “Bah Humbug” invective. The life-size caricature apparitions from Scrooge’s youth, revealed during a visit from the Christmas past, lighten the heavy burden of realizing one's regrets. And when the Cratchits eagerly hunt the horse fly in their home for dinner, we are momentarily distracted from their more than humble circumstances.
Yet, A Commedia Christmas Carol is so much more than it’s masks, improvisation, and physical comedy. It is the enthusiasm with which Scrooge pledges to change his selfish ways, as well as the alacrity with which he begins to prove himself through various acts of charity. It is the welcoming comfort provided by those who, like Tiny Tim, withhold judgment. It is the invitation from a family member that is continually extended, with the hope that someday it will be accepted. These lessons, and many more, are captured by the ensemble of Fools.
This potent telling of a timeless story highlights the important things in life: making time for our loved ones, empathizing with our less fortunate neighbors, and keeping the spirit of Christmas with us throughout the year. For those of us who have been neglectful, Jacob Marley reminds us, “It’s never too late!”
A Commedia Christmas Carol is playing Thursday through Sunday at the Elstad Theater at Galludet University until Sunday, December 23rd. For more information or tickets, click here.