Portland Stage presents A (One Man) Christmas Carol

Digital Streaming through January 7, 2021.

This kinder version of A Christmas Carol opens with the lighting of a single candle on a blackened stage. “Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood or nothing good can come of the story I’m going to relate…” begins master storyteller Joel Leffert. (member of Actors’ Equity Association.) The adapter and sole actor slips between narration and a multitude of characters with only the change of eyeglasses, a scarf, evocative lighting to grease transition. He moves minimal furniture and occupies the stage with motivated flourish. “Once upon a time…” (Cue jingle bells, then a faint instrumental carol.)

In a sweep, we meet misanthropic Scrooge, clerk Bob Cratchit, exuberant, nephew Fred –whose laughter is abruptly cut short while bounce remains, and two men of charity with distinctly different voices (for a moment you’ll swear there are two, side by side). Scrooge gets down on his hands and knees to frighten away a child singing at the door. Gestures are exaggerated (as myth demands), John Barrymore without the shtick. Sound effects are terrific throughout, from varied bells often acting as parentheses, to creaking floor boards, background bustle, ghostly atmosphere…

London’s period skyline and deft chiaroscuro provide background as the protagonist makes his way home. His dressing gown and nightcap are just right. Scrooge faces Marley’s ghost (cue green reflection) with confusion, fear and disdain. The spirit’s voice echoes. (An additional burdensome chain would serve.) Left alone, the hero snores. Fat, flickering candles portend. The voice of the Spirit of Christmas Past reverberates, one, then another on its tail.

Visiting his childhood school, Scrooge moves around the stage as if inextricably drawn. His little sister’s voice is not just high, but tender. The narrator populates old Fezziwig’s (to whom he’d been apprenticed) holiday party with palpable pleasure. Scrooge’s laugh is, for a moment, endearing “His heart and soul went in the scene.” His fiancé appears dignified and rueful. We back up to see him returned to bed, a small figure enveloped by dark.

The Spirit of Christmas Present is jolly, declarative. The pair travel streets among unseen bustle. Description of the scene inside Bob Crachits’s house is familial. A sense of excitement pervades. Conjured goose and pudding drip and bubble. Then, to Fred’s festivities where light grows bright. “The whole party played and so did Scrooge, forgetting his voice had no sound…” Fred is irresistible. Scrooge dances. Both families toast him, the second vanishing with palpable whoosh. We see his attitude chipping earlier than other dramatizations.

“While Scrooge remained unaltered, the Spirit grew older.” The Spirit of Christmas Future is unseen. (A forbidding shadow might’ve worked well.) Pin lights create infinity. Scrooge has died. Human vultures pillage. An old woman and her buyer are gleeful, oblivious; especially well manifest. Realizing his fate, Scrooge’s voice becomes tremulous, pleading. Leffert is a master with sounds that express emotion. And lastly, the graveyard.

Transition back home is seamless. Waking redeemed, the character rejoices. Which way to turn, what to do first? He unselfconsciously laughs and jumps like a child. “He chuckled till he cried.” A boy is paid to fetch a prize turkey. Scrooge dresses, goes out, and faces Christmas. It snows. Narrative ending is accompanied by harp. “God Bless Us Everyone.”

The production looks grand. Imaginative lighting and precisely timed sound add illusion. Condensed, the story loses nothing. Leffert has chosen to offer a Scrooge whose armor is less impenetrable, perhaps more relatable. His journey and lesson remain. A timely tale well told.

Joel Leffert has been involved with eight different productions of A Christmas Carol, playing various characters. “The one constant is the beauty of the story: the clear, emotional through line of transformation the author wrote about through Scrooge …Dickens was the Shakespeare of his day…His writings were adapted often during his lifetime. Later on, when it was suggested that he should start performing his work… He would stand up and successfully inhabit every character.

“I started working on my own version of this play 30 years ago… This year I thought, ‘Well, we can’t do a big production of A Christmas Carol, how about I do a one-man version?’ I wanted to create a pure, easy storyline for everyone to follow, yet still keep most of Dickens’s marvelous language…The story has a universal theme, the idea that we can change, that we can be better versions of ourselves…” (Joel Leffert)

Amen!

Photos by Mical Hutson.

A Christmas Carol based on the novella by Charles Dickens
Adapted and Starring Joel Leffert
Foley Operator – Nancy Nichols
Directed by Anita Stewart
Set and Costumes by Anita Stewart
Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design by Seth Asa Sengel

About Alix Cohen (1081 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.