Seeing “A Christmas Carol” is a tradition for many people, and Hale Center Theater Orem’s 10th annual production of it does not vary much from the traditional.
In fact, I can think of virtually no differences between the show this year and the show last year, except for the cast members.
Which is perfectly fine. Even though we know the story, and even though parts of it drag on — like the entire fourth act, when Scrooge doesn’t realize that Christmas Future is showing him HIS death, even though someone who knew nothing about the story could have figured it out in three seconds — it still has power to touch hearts in the end.
Scrooge’s redemption and the jubilant attitudes of the townspeople of old London (gorgeously attired in costumes by Mary Ann Hill) are a great mix, and Hale Center’s intimate setting draws the audience right into it.
William Bisson is a fine Scrooge: not particularly mean, just difficult and grouchy. Ted Lehman’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel is written such that Scrooge begins feeling penitent almost immediately, so his “change of heart” is not really the focus. That’s a structural problem of the script, but Bisson does as well as he can to make Scrooge a three-dimensional character.
In fact, the script has a number of problems. The voice-over narration in the beginning goes on too long, as does the aforementioned fourth act. So does the scene in which Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Vic Groves) plays a guessing game in which the answer is obviously “Scrooge,” but his dim-headed party guests take forever to figure it out.
But this is irrelevant. “A Christmas Carol” isn’t a play anymore so much as it is a pageant. We go because of the warm Christmas feelings it gives us, not because we want thought-provoking, carefully plotted theater.
And like I said: That’s perfectly fine. The Christmas caroling between scenes is beautiful, as is the pre-recorded accompaniment by Cody Hale (who also plays Bob Cratchit and sings a beautiful rendition of “What Child is This?” just after Tiny Tim’s death). As a production, it’s pretty good. As a yuletide tradition, it’s fantastic.
Notice in the cast list that two of the characters in this play are "Want" and "Ignorance." I think I would be good at playing either of those, and I would enjoy putting it on my resume.
This play has a scene featuring the dumbest party-goers in theater history. Scrooge's nephew Fred is having a party, and they're all making fun of stingy ol' Mister Scrooge. Then, two seconds later, they start playing "Yes and No," which is like "20 Questions." Fred is the one who has thought of something, and all the others are trying to guess it. We know immediately -- before they even start playing -- that obviously, the thing Fred has in mind is Scrooge. Not just because they were just talking about him, but because this play is far too simple to go off on an unrelated tangent. We're not going to see them playing 20 Questions unless it somehow relates.
But these idiot Victorian party-goers ask about a thousand questions before one of them finally figures out it's Mr. Scrooge. And then they all laugh like maniacs, the thought apparently never having occurred to them. What a bunch of morons. Were people really that stupid in Victorian England? I hope not, although it would kind of explain Scrooge's initial attitude toward them if they were.