12/21/2019 A CHRISTMAS CAROL Aurora Theatre
KEEPING IT FRESH
This is a show I’ve reviewed so often, the columns (literally -- thank you copy-and-paste) write themselves. Once again, I made the long trek Lawrenceville-ward (even longer now that I’ve relocated to Acworth) to see my friend (Bias Alert!) Anthony Rodriguez’s one-man Christmas Carol, playing in Aurora’s intimate black-box theatre.
Last year, I had some quibbles about the addition of modern tech whiz-bangery trespassing on the simple story-telling formats of Christmases Past, but I’m now a year wiser, and, am actually looking at the production through (slightly) modified lenses. (Details later.) Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it thoroughly this year, perhaps more so than before, and am very pleased to report that this (purported) FINAL season of the show is as fresh and alive as it was the first year I saw it.
If you feel a sense of déjà vu after seeing this, you won’t be surprised to see it is the same adaptation by Tony Brown that is used by the Shakespeare Tavern. This adaptation is, at heart, a “storyteller’s” version, and, fortunately, the Aurora has Mr. Rodriguez, on stage alone for the entire (BRISK!) 75-minute running time, engaging us completely with his spinning of this oft-told tale (though perhaps not “oft” enough for my Dickensophile tastes).
The small black box space is set like a stripped-down Victorian parlour. Mr. Rodriguez comes out early, playing himself, greeting patrons he knows by name. He quickly segues into his story, pouring a childlike delight in his retelling of the tale, occasionally interrupting himself with ad-libbed commentary (“Dickens apparently had some food issues”), often directing whole segments to specific audience members (especially any children present), tossing character voices hither and yon as if they were tinsel thrown on a tree, he makes the entire presentation a spell-binding delight. A sound technician occasionally throws in live effects or off-stage voices, but, when all is said and done, this is Mr. Rodriguez’s show.
I’ve always had a fondness for Patrick Stewart’s one-man “Carol,” (I listen to the recording every year), and this has set the bar high for any other version. Mr. Stewart gave a bravura actor’s turn, bringing all his training and experience into a seemingly endless parade of character and voice. Who could match that achievement? Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Brown made the smart attempt to not even try. Rather than focusing their efforts on a singular achievement of acting, they created a singular achievement of story-telling. They are, in effect, showing us the English parlour readings that Dickens himself gave of the story, recreating the very real pleasure of sitting down and hearing a master storyteller spin his webs of imagination and delight. Mr. Rodriguez makes no bones about being himself throughout and proves to be a compelling (and welcoming) story-teller. It’s a very different focus, and to my mind, provides very different (and perhaps greater) pleasures than the strictly Thespian approach.”
What has changed this year is the replacement of the “Marley projection” with a green glow that flits ghostlike over the audience. This, for me, was a much more effective choice! It also caused a “click” in my mind: my 2018 quibbling was rooted in my fondness for the Victorian Storyteller ambience of the production, and the damage the projections and other high-tech flourishes inflicted on that ambience. But, his year, my mind “clicked” over to the realization that if Mr. Rodriguez is Mr. Rodriguez throughout, why shouldn’t he have all the storytelling capabilities available to him? I’m (fairly) certain that if Mr. Dickens himself were telling this story in 2019, he’d embrace all the flourishes available to him, as he most certainly did in his Victorian heyday.
And this leaves NO quibbles whatsoever, for this, which will (probably) be my final visit with this production (Aurora is advertising this as its final year). As with every year before, this is a veritable family party between Mr. Rodriguez and the imaginations of the audience. As with every year before, it’s a pleasure to sit back, relax, and know we are in the hands of a consummate story-teller, a perfect party host.
As usual, there are many on-stage Dickens adaptations from which you may choose this year, and, to my story-philic eyes, this adaptation is the best. If you love this tale as much as I do, you can’t do much better than taking the trip to Lawrenceville and watching Mr. Rodriguez weave his spell.
To my 2018 self and those nit-picky quibbles, all I can say is, “Bah! Humbug!”
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #ATChristmasCarol)