Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

A Christmas Carol

Albuquerque Little Theatre
Review by Carla Cafolla

Brian Clifton, with Mark Pino, David Espalin,
Michelle Bunzel and Will Adams

Photo by Jason Ponic Photography
There's nothing like a heavily moral Victorian tale steeped in commentary regarding poverty, corporate greed, and social injustice to whet one's appetite for the upcoming holiday season. Credited by many as the creator of the template (still in use today) relating to man's ideological and often emotional journey to redemption, Dickens' sometimes maudlin novella, A Christmas Carol, has, regardless, stood the test of time.

Disney it isn't, though Disney did do an animated version making Scrooge an adjective to describe a miserly, tight-fisted kill-joy. So I wasn't exactly skipping down Pasquale Ave to review Sunday's production at Albuquerque Little Theatre. But maybe I should have. Someone, I assume director Laura Cummins, decided to rehabilitate Dickens' moral crusade of the day, via Doris Baizley's adaptation of the original, shifting the focus and dragging it out of the doldrums.

My first clue was the set. An ornate gypsy-type caravan dominated the stage. And, rather than the usual hoards of pitiful, emaciated wretches who customarily populate Boz' stories, we meet a cranky stage manager and a merry prop boy, members of a traveling troupe who wander at will staging productions—this time A Christmas Carol, for 'tis the season, and all that. When the director announces the two actors playing Scrooge and Tiny Tim have absconded under the blanket of night, it is decided (to the stage managers dismay and the prop boys glee) that these two crew members will take the roles themselves, creating for us, the audience, a play within a play.

Much amusement accompanies the creation of props for the show, and prop boy, played on alternative nights by brothers Will and Evan Adams (it was Evan's turn on the Sunday matinee) is very amusing to watch. The caravan transforms with ease into a stage, set perfectly for act one of the troupe's performance. Gentlemen in top hats and ladies in hooped dresses render "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," accompanying themselves with handbells. So, while there was sunshine outside the theatre, there was Christmas within. A lone magician appears for a moment, with his magic rings. A trio of clowns present themselves with exuberance.

Members of the troup take on multiple roles in the play—the director (Mark Pino) becomes Marley's sad spirit and the ghost of Christmas future; Leading Lady/Christmas Past/Mrs. Cratchit are all played beautifully by Michelle Bunzel, as is David Espalin's Leading Man and Bob Cratchit. The biggest transformation is Brian Clifton's conversion from the grumpy stage manager into the multifaceted Scrooge. The imaginative world created is inventive and fun. I don't want to spoil it, but whoever thought of using arms and hands in the manner shown is a genius. For me, this was the highlight of the show. So simple, so clever, so effective. And so funny.

After the intermission, the already converted gypsy wagon changes into Scrooge's bedroom. Ghosts weave in and out, bring tidings of such woe that Scrooge sees the error of his ways, is redeemed, and is subsequently loved by all. A cynic might wonder if this redemption would have occurred had he not been terrorized with visions of his afterlife.

Act two is better than act one, yet for the handful of children in attendance, it could not hold their interest. A little girl who was supposed to be sitting beside me, spent most of act two climbing on and off her mothers lap. The other children I could see around the theatre were also very fidgety. This is not a children's show, so maybe keep them at home.

Dickens' formula repeats throughout his writings. Oliver Twist, Pip Pirrup, and Tiny Tim are cast from the same cloying mold. And it is this that usually makes me want to run headlong into oncoming traffic. However, in this case, potential suicidal inclinations were kept firmly at bay. It is easy to forget this is a play about a play. In the end I was quite surprised to see Scrooge and (the not-so) Tiny Tim reemerge as their original selves.

This COVID safety conscious theatre boasts an on-site testing program for each and every cast and crew member, all of whom are masked when not actually onstage.

Proof of vaccination, or very recent (within 48 hours) negative COVID test results are required for admission. The management and staff of ALT truly appreciate the overwhelmingly positive reaction by their patrons with regard to creating and sustaining a safe environment for all to enjoy the return of live theatre. For this, they thank you most sincerely.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 24, 2021, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. For tickets and information, please call 505-242-4750 or visit Tickets also available at the door. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:3 0 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with additional performances on Thursday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, December 22 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, December 23 at 7:30 p.m., with a final performance on Friday, December 24 at 1:00pm.