Christmas Carol A Ghost Story is an Exciting and Atmospheric Experience at the James J. Hill House

Two weeks ago this very night I attended the opening night of the Guthrie Theater’s annual production of A Christmas Carol and enjoyed it thoroughly. Tonight I attended a new adaptation Christmas Carol A Ghost Story presented by Wayward Theatre Company and staged throughout the James J. Hill House. I surprisingly have to give the edge to this new staging. Maybe it’s a familiarity of the Guthrie’s production, it’s relatively unchanged from last year, or maybe it’s just the more intimate and altogether spookier take on the tale that Wayward has created. The fact is you cannot go wrong with either, they are both faithful tellings of a story so well constructed that no matter how many times we experience it we always come back for more. The uniqueness of this staging is that we move throughout the grand mansion from room to room, up and down staircases, experiencing the story in a more immersive way. This is the third of Wayward’s James J. Hill House staged production I have seen, I enjoyed each one, but this one surpasses both Hamlet and Macbeth. This is truly an outstanding experience and I urge everyone to get your tickets now, this show is selling out fast.

I’m not going to bore you with a synopsis of A Christmas Carol, the odds that one of the 37 people in Minnesota who don’t know the plot are reading this seems miniscule. I will instead touch on the emphasis and interesting touches that writer and director Sarah Nargang has brought out. First off, this is a very faithful adaptation but wasn’t sure when it began with a very brief scene that had a sort of music hall broad comedy feel to it. But that opening scene is designed I think to subvert our expectations as well as allow for any late comers or delays that might have occurred depending on which start time you are attending. Probably should clarify that, there are three start times each evening 7:00 PM, 7:30 PM, and 8:00 PM, each start time has a different cast in the three main roles of Scrooge, Cratchit, and Fred. The production is timed so that as one audience moves throughout the house and another is 30 minutes behind them. Aside from the main three characters the other actors can simply stay where they are and wait for the next audience to appear. I attended the 7:30 PM start time and I never saw any sign of the audience ahead or behind me. The planning that must have gone into the logistics of this production are sort of mindblowing, There is at least one room that we visit twice and is reset between visits, which must be redone three times a night. Nargang definitely leans into the “Ghost” or spooky aspects of the tale, not so much in script but in the look and mood of the piece. There is also a subtle emphasis on the concept of time, there are a few words added to dialogue that just slightly adjust how we look at Scrooge’s journey with the three ghosts. One touch that shouldn’t work is the use of the song “Time in a Bottle“, I say shouldn’t, but it plays wonderfully and feels perfectly natural despite being an anachronism.

My cast was led by Lolly Foy as Scrooge, she recently impressed me at DalekoArts in another spooky little play called The Thin Place. Miss Foy’s performance proved one thing, when it comes to Scrooge you need to cast the right person, not the right man. There is no gender swap in the role, it’s still Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, she’s great in the role and after the initial realization, I never thought about it again – to quote Bill Murray in Meatballs “It just doesn’t matter”. Luke Aaron Davidson was our Bob Cratchit who initially functions as our entry into the story segwaying between the comic opening in an employment office to Scrooge’s place of business and the start of the story proper. In said place of business, we meet the other performer who is unique to our start time Michael Quadrozzi as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. All three, indeed the entire cast nail the difficult task of performing naturally in such intimate spaces. On top of that they are several sections where they need to sing and everytime the sound was exquisite. There is a scene towards the end where Scrooge’s sister Fanny played by Abigail Walker begins to sing “Auld Lang Syne” that is so beautiful that I felt transported to another plane of existence such as the one her character long deceased was singing from. Daniel Vopava as the Ghost of Christmas Past was tremendous, there was something about him, maybe it was the scottish burr or the costume or the way he carried himself, but I was reminded of Alastair Sim (my personal favorite film Scrooge) as the Headmistress of St. Trinian’s.

What is most astonishing is how technically solid a show this is given that it is staged in an old mansion that is now a museum. The production design by Justin Hooper is nothing short of amazing. Easy enough to let the structure itself do the heavy lifting, but it just takes a moment to look around each set up and realize how much goes into creating what is needed for each space and the requirement of each scene. The costumes designed by Rhiannon Fiskradatz were top notch, Particularly effective where the various Ghost costumes, my favorite being the above mentioned Ghost of Christmas Past. Rounding out the look and feel of the production were the various props assembled by Teri Ristow, the lighting design by Jake Otto and the sound design by Pete Kivdera. This is one of those productions where everything works perfectly together creating a unified feel and atmosphere.

As I said at the top the tickets are selling fast for this production and the reason is because it is a unique and rewarding take of a holiday favorite, if you see only one A Christmas Carol adaptation this year, it should be this one. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.waywardtheatre.org/

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