Scrooge Shines in Irvine

Every winter, countless theaters across the world perform Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s change of heart has been told and re-told a great many times, and the challenge of staging a production of this cultural prominence lies in delivering to the audience something new. Annie Loui’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” presented by the Claire Trevor School of the Arts in Winifred Smith Hall, did just that, in a delightful production that took a unique approach to this classic production.

Courtesy of South Coast Repertory

Courtesy of South Coast Repertory

As many cast members of “A Christmas Carol” have done before, a few of the actors involved in this production were stationed in the lobby in costume and character, cheerfully singing Christmas carols to audience members as they filed in, setting a pleasant tone for the evening. The sound of the caroling was accompanied by a recorded track of horses trotting, bells tolling and wind blowing. If you closed your eyes, you were in Dickensian London.

Upon viewing the stage, the minimalist set struck me, and as the play began, the director’s decision not to include many props or set pieces immediately became obvious. Actors trotted across the stage as “horses,” pulling imaginary carriages and the only set piece was a wooden contraption on wheels, equipped with curtains on tall rods, which would be folded and rearranged to become Scrooge’s bed, a ship or a dining room throughout the course of the play. This set was versatile and effective, much like the actors.

Though the cast was relatively small for a production of “A Christmas Carol,” the actors made up the difference with their enthusiasm and energy. Each performer was blatantly multi-talented, and Loui did a fantastic job of utilizing these talents effectively. In addition to acting and singing at various points in the production, cast members performed well-choreographed dance movements that were often acrobatic in nature. In one exhibition of this unique component, The Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge flew across the stage on the shoulders of other cast members.

Scrooge was played by Jacob Dresch, who handled the role quite well and seemed to feel most comfortable during Scrooge’s more comedic scenes, particularly the final scene in which Scrooge dances around his bedroom, celebrating his reinvigorated Christmas spirit. However, the most pleasing performance of the evening belonged to Oge Agulué, who performed to the audience’s satisfaction as the Ghost of Christmas Present, while also filling two other speaking roles in the play. What made Agulué’s performance so memorable was his use of a Jamaican accent while playing The Ghost of Christmas Present. Whether he was directed to do this or decided to add it himself, this was nothing short of hilarious in the context of this play.

Though the cast members more than adequately fulfilled their roles, the most praiseworthy aspects of this production were behind-the-scenes. Technical Director Keith Bangs’ sound design knocked it out of the park and was by far the most impressive part of the show. Whether it was peaceful horse hooves on cobblestones or the overwhelmingly frightening bass tones (think “Paranormal Activity”) that made the entire room shake when the Ghost of Christmas Future took the stage, the sound component of this show added a fantastic dimension to the production and filled as important a role as any actor. In addition to sound, Shigeru Yaji and Jojo Siu’s costumes were done very well, and enabled the stage to feel like 19th century England, despite the minimalist set.

CTSA’s next major production, “Angels in America,” opens Jan. 25, 2014.