One of my family’s holiday traditions is to watch all 19 movie and television versions of “A Christmas Carol” we have recorded on CDs and VHS tapes. These include the versions featuring Henry Winkler, Mr. Magoo, and Rich Little. And we try to catch a stage show when we can all get together.
So it was a real treat to finally see a version of our favorite go-to Christmas movie staged as a radio show. This year’s Open Stage’s “A Christmas Carol” felt like infiltrating the backstage of a sound and visual effects studio, with just a splash of Monty Python. All that was missing was an oversized microphone, a blinking “Applause” sign, and a sponsored message from unfiltered Lucky Strikes.
With most of our modern familiar holiday traditions on hiatus stemming from COVID-19, the austerity of 2020 could have been penned by Charles Dickens himself. Just as 2020 threw some new things at the world that left us all improvising, Rachel Landon’s adaptation breaks tradition in a few different ways. In the spirit of the poverty-addled Cratchits assembling what they could afford, the troupe of Open Stage cobbled together pieces and parts for props, flotsam and jetsam, from different cultures and time periods, to put together a performance that mixed things up while simultaneously pacing along with the traditional Dickens classic.
Not far from the Rich Little version, Open Stage players Benny Benamati, Chris Gibson, and Rachel Landon traded off alternately on playing each character, carefully synching sound effects with each other’s actions. If you look closely, you may even spot a few crinkly dog toys used to simulate a crackling fire.
Landon’s offbeat adaptation did keep some elements of the traditional story, most notably a narrator in front of a hearth interloping once in a while in his British accent to further the plot. Both the narrative and the dialogue closely resemble the novel.
The supernatural elements of the show rate as avant-garde performance art, with a spectacular amount of spook factor introduced by those creepy Japanese bunraku puppets alone.
Although empty theaters are only a temporary break in this year’s holiday tradition, you can watch Open Stage’s rendition through a modern media YouTube paradigm. Rule-breaker that I am, I sort of enjoyed forging a new tradition of watching the Open Stage troupe air-playing Dickens to my hand-held tablet while I sat in my bean-bag chair.
Oh, and there’s bonus video material. You can spend your intermission listening to interviews from the actors from previous years—ghosts of “A Christmas Carol” past.
As an important thread running through our lives, Open Stage has kept this play as a holiday tradition for 21 years and counting. Player Chris Gibson feels “connected to past performances, as well as the lessons of Dickens’s ghosts.” He said, “Be aware of your own ghosts. They connect you to your past.”
The family-friendly “A Christmas Carol” runs Dec. 4 to 29 on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. Access the show through the Open Stage YouTube page and on Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.openstagehbg.com.
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