reviewed by Dave Bolander

Indiana Repertory Theatre celebrates its 28th telling of the beloved classic Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Tom Haas, with a production directed by Benjamin Hanna. Mr. Hanna also serves as IRT’s Associate Artistic Director, and for this endeavor, leads a wonderful cast and crew.

Most of us are familiar with the timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens described Ebenezer as “a cold hearted, tight fisted, selfish man who despises Christmas and all things that incite happiness”.  That is the Scrooge that we meet at the beginning of the story as told by an ensemble of other-worldly spirits and human characters from his life. It’s a tale of brokenness and self-imposed isolation, but it is also a tale of hope, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and redemption.

Ryan Artzberger returns for his ninth season as the money-pinching, unpleasant Ebenezer Scrooge. Artzberger’s Scrooge is younger than I am used to seeing, but it works. His youthfulness helps to make him more accessible and it seems easier for us to identify with this younger Scrooge – to be able to see the Scrooge in us. An older scrooge may seem distant, and too dissimilar.  Artzberger gives him a relateable quality and wry sense of humor that complements the darker side of the character.

from left: Rob Johansen (Cratchit), Ryan Artzberger (Scrooge) and Mark Goetzinger (Portly Gentleman) in a scene from IRT’s 2018 production of “A Christmas Carol”.

In this year’s rendering of Haas’s adaption, the element of narration weaves itself intricately in and out of the dialogue from the beginning of the play all the way through to the end. It’s an interesting device, moving quickly from dialogue to narration and then shifting back to dialogue again. When done well, it gives the feeling of a story being told – revealing a character’s inner thoughts in a given moment. It also helps to draw the audience into the ongoing conversation. In a sense it is if we are there in the scene as one of the characters. However, there are moments, when the narrative voice appears, that feel a bit too presentational and disconnected. It doesn’t seem to fit or flow naturally out of the ongoing conversation. At times it tends to feel a bit choppy and disembodied. In these moments, I want to feel as if the actor was talking “to me” and not “at me”. I want to feel as if the conversation is still flowing naturally and that it is just opening up so that I am being included. I think the actors handle this challenge with varying levels of success.

Rob Johansen (Bob Cratchit, Postboy, Topper) does a wonderful job handling these quick transitions between dialogue and narration, particularly in his scenes with the Cratchit family. His skill and easy manner draws the audience in as if he is speaking to another member of his family. He is able to do this without losing his connection with the other actors onstage. Mr. Johansen’s Cratchit is full of warmth, love, and hope. 

All of the members of the Cratchit family really capture the feeling of gratitude, love and hope. Jennifer Johansen (Mrs. Cratchit) is a nice complement to her real-life husband Rob Johansen (Bob Cratchit). Mehry Eslaminia shows some nice skill in her portrayal of the eldest daughter, Martha Cratchit. The other Cratchit children are played by two teams of student actors: The team on stage for this particular evening included Dalyn Stewart (Peter Cratchit), Jordan Pecar (Belinda Cratchit), London Rayner (Henrietta Cratchit), Camil McGhee (Betsy Cratchit), and Katherine Boice as Tiny Tim. There is a second team of student actors who alternate performances. They include Grayson Molin (Peter Cratchit), Alyssa C. Whisler (Belinda Cratchit), Claire Kauffman (Henrietta Cratchit), Kynden Luster (Betsy Cratchit), and Holland Barnes (Tiny Tim).

from left: Milicent Wright as Christmas Present; Charles Goad as Marley’s Ghost

One element I really enjoyed about the production is that most of the actors play multiple characters. It is an impressive display of skill and flexibility by the whole ensemble. Some notable performances include Charles Goad, who hauntingly plays Marley’s Ghost, the delightful Mr. Fezziwig and the scruple-less Undertaker. Reggie D. White, who plays Fred the School Master, and Christmas Present, also displays adept skill and ability as he switches between roles. Mark Goetzinger makes the most of his roles, moving effortlessly from a grandfatherly Portly Gentleman to a rascally Old Joe. Milicent Wright is perhaps the highlight of these multiple character performers. Her Mrs. Fezziwig is bubbly and contagious; as Christmas Present, she is jovial, empathetic and powerfully present; and as the Charwoman, she is just deliciously devious.

Stephenie Soohyun Park (Christmas Past, Roses Sister, Laundress) is delightful and energetic in the role of Christmas Past. The audience connects with her quirky and fun filled spirit.  Aaron Kirby (Young Scrooge, Nutley, Broker) and Ashley Dillard (Felicity, Belle) have some lovely moments as Young Scrooge and Belle. Carlos Medina Maldonado (Waiter, Young Marley, Belle’s Husband, Broker, Poulterer’s Man, et al.) has his work cut out for him as he moves through at least five different named characters.

The cast of IRT’s 2018 production of “A Christmas Carol”

Hats off to the design team as well. Sets, Costumes, Lighting, Sound, Vocals, Choreography, all come together to create a simple but magical experience.

If you have not made IRT’s production of A Christmas Carol part of your holiday celebration, here is your second chance.  Don’t miss out on the magic. Start something new. Invite your friends and family. This delightful production hits all the right notes. A Christmas Carol continues at IRT through December 26 and tickets can reserved by calling the IRT box office at 317.635.5252.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing
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