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New ‘A Christmas Carol’ unlike any you’ve seen before

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BANGOR – A Dickensian classic has been given a whole new look courtesy of a collaboration between Penobscot Theatre Company and Atlanta’s The Object Group.

“A Christmas Carol” is part of PTC’s Digitus Theatrum season, a filmed experience that features iconic local actor Ken Stack not just reprising his beloved portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, but voicing all of the characters in the Dickens original via his own adaptation of the story. All this is brought to life via the stylized, intricate puppets and puppetry of The Object Group as directed by Michael Haverty.

It’s a visually striking production, with a unique aesthetic that renders it quite unlike any other version of “A Christmas Carol” that you’ve seen. It balances the traditional tone of the story with explorations of both the spookiness and silliness inherent to the tale. A household link – viewable as many times as you like – can be purchased by going to PTC’s website at www.penobscottheatre.org or by contacting the box office at 942-3333.

Now, the notion that there is someone out there reading these words that doesn’t know the story of “A Christmas Carol” seems unlikely, so I’m not going to go into some kind of full-on synopsis. It’s basically baked into our seasonal DNA at this point: misanthropic miser is visited by ghosts that pull him through his own past, present and future in an effort to show him the true meaning of Christmas and encourage him to be a better man.

With something like “A Christmas Carol,” the familiarity is part of the fun. There’s something so satisfying about sitting back and engaging with a story that you’ve enjoyed so many times before. It’s soothing and sweet, a homemade Christmas cookie dipped in a glass of egg nog (the adultness of said nog may vary).

But when you get to experience that familiar story put forward in a drastically different package, well – then you’ve got the best of both worlds.

And there’s no arguing that the PTC/TOG collaborative version of “A Christmas Carol” is VERY different. The puppets, designed by Sam Carter, are so striking. The inspirations from which the designer draws are varied – from German expressionism to Tim Burton and more – but those disparate influences are brought together to create something that is both reminiscent of and entirely apart from those influences.

This Scrooge is sallow and glowering, marked by a greenish hue that sets him apart; the look evokes the dual sins of avarice and envy in an unexpected manner. It’s a sharp, smart choice – one of many. The Cratchits are a wide-eyed bunch, capturing the innocence and positivity of that familial energy. Marley is spectacular, a blue-hued, wild-haired manic presence; think the darkest side of Rankin-Bass. The Ghost of Christmas Past has a lean, ethereal look – a bit of a David Bowie vibe. Christmas Present is broad and bold, outsized in a manner reminiscent of the best stop-motion work of Nick Park. Future is spooky-scary in precisely the way you want it to be spooky-scary. Even the tertiary characters – mostly rendered as functional 2D puppets as opposed to marionettes – are dynamic and engaging.

All of the action takes place on a detailed and meticulously constructed series of tiny sets, remarkably functional even while keeping pace with the overall aesthetic of the piece. With moving panels and layered spaces, it’s a pure delight to watch in action – Scrooge’s bedroom is a particularly impressive bit of work, though in truth it’s all great.

Of course, the key to the success of it all is the vocal work put forth by Stack. His intimate familiarity with the story serves him well here; the connection he bears to his adaptation allows for an exceeding depth of expression. His Scrooge is magnificent, obviously – it always has been, so why would that change now? Even so, this Scrooge is ever-so-slightly different; the change is subtle, but Stack has clearly adjusted his portrayal to this new medium. But it’s the rest of the story that really impresses, with Stack finding ways to alter and adjust his distinctive voice to differentiate between the 15 or so characters he brings to life. It’s a monumental task, but one to which Stack rises.

This is not “A Christmas Carol” that you’ve seen before. It is an altogether new and different take on the classic tale, one brought to life by a thoughtful collaboration among some truly talented individuals. No humbug here, folks; you’ll enjoy this show – even with a few strings attached.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2020 08:35

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