To many, a one-man dramatic reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol seems like an entirely new and unique spin on the classic work. However, Charles Dickens himself employed this approach to presenting his work, performing public dramatic readings in England. Then in 1867, Charles Dickens went to the United States for his second time and toured his dramatic reading for 6 months, giving 400 performances.
John Stevens, following in the footsteps of Charles Dickens, has adapted the novella for the stage and is presenting the familiar tale at The Country Playhouse. Like Charles Dickens, he uses a book as a prop and reads some passages from it. Yet, most of the performance is committed to memory as he portrays Charles Dickens as narrator, Ebenezer Scrooge, and the rest of the wide cast of characters from the story.
Direction by Bonnie Hewett is paced perfectly. Under her direction, John Stevens utilizes differing voices, stances, and gestures for the different characters. Clad only in black and only using his body and voice to differentiate between characters, he enraptures the audience and makes each characterization leap off the stage.
John Stevens does a masterful job playing all the parts. After seeing his performance it is clear that he has a passion for the story. When he flubs a line, he instantly recovers and the story moves forward without any hindrance. Also, it truly seems that each flub is intentional and pristinely placed-showcasing the brilliant mind of a true storyteller that zealously wants to ensure the audience hears every part of the tale. Moreover, with only a few sparse set pieces to help the audience picture locale, John Stevens easily commands the stage and fills it with his presence. In performance, he is extremely charismatic and the audience clings onto every word he utters. His recitation of Dickens' work is wholly enthralling and manages to let the audience hear Dickens' voice in a way that we are unaccustomed to. Despite being such a familiar tale, as John Stevens performs the piece, it is almost like we experience the story for the first time.
Rod Harty's Sound and Light Design for the show are powerful and evocative. The use of color in the light design expertly sets the tone throughout the production. It is at its most effective in the scenes with Bob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present, showcasing the versatile ability of lighting to enhance both the creepy and mirthful factors of performances. Likewise, Rod Harty utilizes sound effects that aid in filling out the scenes in the audience's imagination, with the most effective sounds effects being the chiming of the clock and the appropriately placed howling winds.
Accompanying each production of A CHARISTMAS CAROL at The Country Playhouse will be different groups performing carols before the show and during the intermission. Last night, a group of women calling themselves The Three Ladies performed. The fantastic trio vastly surprised and entertained the audience with gorgeous harmonies and immaculate vocal skills. The biggest surprise was finding out that they had never performed together until last night. It sounded as though they had been singing together and rehearsing for ages. While each performance will offer a different set of carolers, I hope The Three Ladies will stick around and continue to leave their indelible mark on the Houston arts scene.
John Stevens' one-man production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a resounding revelation of theatrical brilliance. Every aspect of the production works superbly and really allows the audience to enjoy the story in a novel way. This production simply shouldn't be missed.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL runs on the Cerwinske Stage at The Country Playhouse through December 24, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.countryplayhouse.org or call (713) 467 – 4497.
Photo courtsey of The Country Playhouse.