reviewed by Daniel Shock

Here we are. That time of year again. Christmas. It’s not a surprise that it comes every year…but it can be overwhelming. What am I going to get the kids this year? What am I going to get my wife? My in-laws… how many over-caloried meals am I going to have to attend? Will I still fit into my suit? Oh, and I have to go see A Christmas Carol again and write a review? I might as well say it. Bah, Humbug.

As a child it’s easy to see Ebenezer Scrooge as the villain. He is mean. He is short tempered. He does not want to pay attention to anyone. He wants to be left alone. He seems to find no pleasure in anything – not even his dinner. As an adult, he is far more sympathetic. He is me. I am him.

As, I settled into my seat at the Indiana Repertory Theatre for the Saturday afternoon performance of Tom Haas’ adaptation of Charles Dicken’s novella, I opened my program to look over the cast. I immediately felt a lift as I saw that there were many familiar faces in the cast. Ryan Artzberger, who plays Scrooge, has probably been in 75% of the many productions I’ve seen at IRT. I’ve seen him in this role before and I remembered he was good. One of the things that I am stuck by with Mr. Artzberger in the role, is that Scrooge is not played as elderly. His Scrooge seems to be in the upper end of middle age. This fact cements my identification with him.

The story begins and we see the familiar assaults that Scrooge must endure. Everyone wants something. His employee, Bob Cratchit, played effectively by Jesse Bhamrah, wants to burn resources for heat. He wants time off. Scrooge just wants him to do his job and leave him alone. In the end Scrooge relents to the time off, I suspect, just to end the conversation that he can no longer endure. Then his nephew and his wife arrive imploring him to join them for dinner, assaulting him with their joyous energy and good cheer. He can’t get them out of there fast enough. Then the Ladies of Charity (Jennifer Johansen and Stephenie Soohyun Park) asking him for money for the poor. Money above and beyond what he pays in taxes to support the workhouses and prisons!

We continue through the story. If you are familiar with this adaptation, you will remember that the actors play multiple roles not only switching between them with ease but also switching from character dialog to narration on a dime. The cast is skilled and smooth. I first start to feel my cold heart melt as the Ghost of Christmas Past (Emma Rosenthal) shows poor Ebenezer both happier times and sadder times. When Scrooge sees his old self with friends and his love, Belle (Stephenie Soohyun Park), the joy he feels that quickly turns to pain is heartbreaking.

Christmas Past (Emma Rosenthal) invites Ebenezer Scrooge (Ryan Artzberger) to a vision of his past in IRT’s “A Christmas Carol”

The Ghost of Christmas Present, played with glee by Milicent Wright is a wonderfully funny specter. She shows Scrooge the Cratchit family. Here he gets to see people who have little make the most of what they have with love and devotion. He also gets to hear an unfiltered view of himself as Mrs. Cratchit (Ashley Dillard) makes her dislike for him known to her husband. And then again as he visits his nephew Fred’s (Aaron Kirby) house where the party is in progress and he is subjected to some unflattering portrayals of himself.

Mrs. Cratchet (Ashley Dillard, standing left) with the Cratchet children, as Christmas Present (Milicent Wright, standing right) looks on in IRT’s “A Christmas Carol”

The Ghost of Christmas Future, played by Rob Johansen (who has probably been in 50% of the shows I’ve seen at the IRT), is perfectly disturbing. The future Scrooge glimpses, where he has passed away and no one cares, and where Tiny Tim does not survive, leaves him with dread and horror.

We are relieved when he wakes on Christmas morning and all is as it was. Here is my favorite moment of the show. Ryan Arztberger as Scrooge is full of such mischievous glee… his laugh reveals a changed man. A man who has opened his heart and has had joy restored to him. I laughed and wept tears of joy at the result.

Ebenezer Scrooge (right) encounters Christmas Future (Rob Johansen) in IRT’s “A Christmas Carol”

This is IRT’s 29th production of this adaptation. Do not worry that it is a tired old production. The cast is flawless. Benjamin Hanna has directed the company to a fine success. The traditional Christmas Music as directed by Musical Director Brent Marty is wonderfully evocative of the season and the era. Likewise, the set places us perfectly in a Victorian Christmas ghost story. The costumes by Linda Pisano are new this year. I especially like the costumes for the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present.

A Christmas Carol means more to me as I grow older than it did when I was a child. As the years go by and the mistakes, the regrets, and the hurts build up, I am grateful to be reminded in such a powerful way what really matters in this life: loving each other and building each other up. Forgiving one another. Not hoarding our wealth, our energy and our presence but giving freely and with little thought of self. Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Carol at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (140 W. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204) is running now through December 26. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office by calling 317.635.5252 or online at http://www.irtlive.com