Rock Valley College ended a wonderful holiday run of “A Christmas Carol,” yesterday with sellouts all around.
The iconic tale of the mid-19th century seems less performed now than its latter dated holiday standard, “The Nutcracker.” Though, ‘Nutcracker,’ is equally historical and guarantees to fill the house related to a large children’s cast, it sometimes wears out its annual welcome. Thus, it was a pleasure to enjoy, “A Christmas Carol” once again.
The Studio Theatre at RVC was indeed a friendly venue to perform this Charles Dickens tale of cheer, woe and terror. Adapted by producer/director Michael Webb, the uneasy task was to tell the story in a small theatre before perhaps less than 200 seats. The result, however, spoke volumes about timeless wisdom of this important play.
The action transforms us to in and around London, 1843. Our trip back in time was not by contemporary time machine, per se, but rather a snow globe via pool of light to fog, flakes and candlelit despair. The story begins with gloom and doom on Christmas Eve.
At the center of gloom is infamous Ebenezer Scrooge whom spreads cheerless “bah humbug’s” at everyone everywhere. Frightful and tightfisted, he is a man who had lost his way in life. Jim Cichock as Scrooge was appropriately frumpy with the convincing stance of a failing soul, chins and scowls that seemed to define his stage presence from head to toe.
It could have been an ordinary worldly tale of greedy grouches vs. rose-colored glasses if not for a powerful Dickens fork in the road to the other-worldly. For that twist, we were captured into scenes of ghostly — and ghastly — visits from beyond, all with great attention to detail – travelling skulls, gothic faces and a properly stuffed dead body.
First spirit Jacob Marley as Scrooge’s work partner returns from the forgotten grave to frighten Scrooge and audience alike into a life lesson. As Marley, Christopher Palmer delivered an impressively strong performance from brawn to bellow. His voice was a combination of gravelly sinister to a marathon of vocal acrobatics right down to a lengthy flow of strained dialogue. He also enhanced the character by his imposing size wearing chains of ponder, representing a dark straightjacket of labor.
Ghost by ghost, the spirits return to Scrooge. Of ‘Christmas Past,’ Rose McGregor was well-suited with her wobbly soprano delivery and paleness of presence. Nathan Forrester as Ghost of Christmas Present was a delightfully gross mix of belly laughing and all the cheer to go with it. Eighth grader Jon Jaworowski as ‘Christmas Future,’ as well as Fiddler in the first act was the scary bearer of future news, a turning point of what might be.
Eric Wilson as Bob Cratchit delivered the finer emotions contrasting the more sinister action. Wilson’s extensive experience in television and radio has developed a pleasantly raspy voice with an easy articulation, fit for versatility of many theatre roles to come.
Eugene Cichock as Scrooge’s nephew and positive force throughout delivered wonderful instant facial surprises as his uncle makes a transformation.
No less notable, Cratchit’s family also included Libby Wolfgram as Mrs., Kathryn Wolfgram as Belinda, Harrison Wood as Peter and Sarah Collier as Martha, all loving and protective of Zachary Garner as Tiny Tim. A mighty cast elsewhere, young and old, filled the small stage with this memorable story.
Lastly and most importantly, Charles Dickens appeared himself, upstage and complete with his flickering candle and a river of explanation to add to the action. Daemon Weston was most fit to explain away the ins and outs of the story, using a commanding but gentle vintage voice with multi-media effects. The use of multi-media is often problematic about delivering a steady arc of believability, but this production was more credible than usual.
It was a pleasure to hold onto this Dickens tale and make sure that the hopes, dreams and “what-if’s” never leave our side. Next RVC production is “A Little Night Music,” by Stephen Sondheim with last of the season, “The Verdict” by Agatha Christie. The Studio Theatre, 3301 N. Mulford Rd., Rockford, tickets and information at (815) 921-2160.