The Open Book is currently presenting a charming continuation of Dickens’ beloved “A Christmas Carol” with their production of Marvin Kaye’s “The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge.” First and foremost, this production is Readers Theatre. That is, not a staged reading, but rather a form of theatre in which actors read literature on stage. Think of your mother’s best bedtime story. Now add a stage of accomplished actors and an audience and your drowsy story-time is transformed into a theatrical event full of live images and a compelling assortment of voices and characters.
Kaye’s text accurately captures Dickens’ language, style, and spirit. It was wonderful to see characters I’ve been familiar with since childhood as they proceed on a new journey and into new relationships. This sequel, set after that famed night of ghosts, follows Scrooge as he continues to seek out the unresolved wrongs of his past. The issues of anti-Semitism lost within the Dickens original are brought to the forefront in Kaye’s text as Scrooge becomes a father figure to a Jewish boy named Paul Cohen while being berated by his contemporaries for this cross-cultural relationship. But Scrooge is discovering himself as he takes on this father role and in addition his education about the life’s great lessons are continued, not by three ghosts, but rather from Paul’s endearing Jewish mother. A teenaged Tiny Tim outfitted with a much longer crutch also ignores the social rules of the time as he befriends Paul. Only once did I feel the story lose its integrity during a lengthy court scene, set at the pearly gates, which seemed much too contrived for the rest of Kaye’s tale. But in the end, the theme of brotherhood between Jew and Christian becomes a holiday story for all faiths about not only acceptance but also love and sacrifice.
The Open Book’s band of actors (Stacey Jenson, H. Clark Kee, Marvin Kaye, and Nancy Temple) delightfully brings Kaye and Dickens’ characters to life through an array of vocal accents and physicalizations. At some points their reading voices became muffled, maybe due to the fact they were glancing down at their books, and thus the story was lost. But their words were found again and heightened by beautiful choral moments and in the little movements this traditional style allows. I must admit, I wanted to further romanticize the Readers Theater style by setting this performance in an old library perfumed with the scent of aged books.
In a town where the lighting of a giant Christmas tree, extravagant shop window displays, and scantily clad synchronized kickers make up our holiday traditions, I say
“The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge” is playing at the
Thursday though Saturday, , Dec 1 – Dec 17
Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 students and seniors
Box office: 212-362-9014