BWW Reviews: Sam Bass Community Theatre Presents Family Friendly CHRISTMAS CAROL
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by Jeff Davis
It may not even be Thanksgiving yet, but at Sam Bass Theatre, the halls are decked and the mistletoe is hung. With their current production of A Christmas Carol, one of the first Holiday offerings in Austin this season, it's clear that their aim is to create a fun, family friendly experience, and they do so effortlessly.
Phil Grecian's adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens novella about miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and one sleepless Christmas Eve night is fast paced and short. He also makes it an actor-driven event where the company of actors are storytellers who step in and out of the roles of various characters, allowing some cast members to take on several roles. But the most notable aspect of the adaptation is how much it is geared towards the kiddies in the audience. The ghosts are considerably toned down, and the audience (in a smart nod to Victorian era melodrama) is encouraged to make spooky sounds when the spirits enter. Gone also are some of the novella's scarier scenes, including when Ebenezer is taken to his grave by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Though while the material is toned down a bit to make it more accessible and fun for young audience members, much is retained, including most of Dickens's signature dialogue. After all, Scrooge is nothing without a cantankerous yell of "Bah! Humbug!"
Director Ashley Zeh excels at keeping the play moving along while balancing the familiar plot and characters with Grecian's often campy and interactive adaptation. She uses every bit of Sam Bass Theatre's intimate 50 seat space, and while there are moments where all 19 cast members occupy the small stage, it never looks cluttered or cramped. This is in part due to Lindsay Snyder's effective but relatively bare set. All of the many locations are simply suggested by an assembly of boxes and crates. Likewise, Veronica Prior's costumes are simple suggestions as well, allowing the actors to quickly change from one character to another. And Tara Bonds's lighting design is beautiful and colorful, though sometimes the transitions between light cues are a bit abrupt and noticeable.
As mentioned before, this Christmas Carol demands quite a bit from its cast, and this large ensemble is quite capable and comfortable with the material. Stand outs include Anthony Bain as the Ghost of Christmas Past. While the role is often played as quiet and stoic, Mr. Bain turns his Ghost of Christmas Past into a nuisance who delights in mocking and pestering Scrooge. It's an unconventional choice but certainly an entertaining one. Lindsay Snyder give a fantastic turn as the Ghost of Christmas Present, which she plays with an ethereal, angelic quality, and Greg Garcia is an engaging and likeable Bob Cratchit. But of course, there can be no Christmas Carol without a Scrooge, and Rex Heller is up to the task. While it was clear on Friday night that Heller must be recovering from a cold, his situation rarely if ever slowed him down or stood in his way. His Scrooge is comical, grumpy, and often angry, just as much Grinch as he is Scrooge.
While it certainly has its differences from other stage and screen adaptations of Dickens's work, A Christmas Carol at Sam Bas Theatre is a stable and suitable version of the classic. There may be some cuts here and some additions there, but overall this is an adaptation that I'd wager even Dickens would be proud of.
Run time: 90 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL plays the Sam Bass Theatre at 600 Lee Street, Round Rock, TX now thru December 15th. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. There are no scheduled performances November 22nd – November 25th due to the Thanksgiving Holiday. Tickets are $18 general admission, $15 for students and seniors, $10 for children, and $13 on Thursdays. For tickets and information, visit www.sambasstheatre.org.