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NY Theater Reviews

Ph: A Christmas Carol Live

SOULFUL SCROOGE

By SANDY MACDONALD

Scrooge’s reawakening to the importance of community couldn’t come at a better time.

Fed up with the thin gruel of tepid Zoom readings? Brace yourself for a riveting, fully realized and ultimately challenging A Christmas Carol, one that shakes the dust off a tried-and-true – if typically rather treacly – seasonal tradition.
 
Jefferson Mays, known for his multi-character tours de force (I Am My Own Wife, A Gentleman’s Agreement), here assumes some 50 roles, flipping mercurially among them with a slight shift in orientation or merely tone. Sometimes the transformation is effected by means of Ben Stanton’s brilliant lighting effects, or by a spectral reverb from sound designer Joshua D. Reid, ricocheting through the cavernous video set, a 1930 movie palace in Washington Heights.
 
Still, it’s principally Mays’ subtle legerdemain that informs each transformation, often in the blink of an eye. In some ways, his is a very internalized approach. He seems unafflicted by the impetus to impress, a pitfall for so many solo performers. May dives deep and fast into each persona – most touchingly here, in the character of hard-working, profoundly decent Bob Cratchit.
 
And it doesn’t require a heart of stone to identify with Mays’ Scrooge, about whom perhaps the most charitable epithet would be “task-oriented.” Leaving aside the story’s role as a parable of religious conversion, it also serves as a deep and humorous dive into the comforts to be found within the confines of an absolutist stance – in Scrooge’s case, avarice.
 
Though his external circumstances might appear grim, Scrooge’s inner world is a palace of self-righteousness, a hall of mirrors reflecting his worth. Far from cursing the darkness that envelops him (his choice), Scrooge preens over it, as proof of his exquisite thrift.
 
As many of us begin to emerge from our Covid burrows, Scrooge’s reawakening to the pleasures – and responsibilities – of community couldn’t come at a better time. In a nice Dickensian twist, the price of virtual admission ($50) will go to support shuttered theaters.