I’m in Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, watching PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of A Christmas Carol:. It is the Fezziwig Christmas Party scene, and I’m seeing magic: Barrels of ale rolled in by galloping dancers in festival frocks, a rollicking holiday band, and a ceiling-high Christmas tree, with ribbons and baubles aplenty. The hustle and bustle of the party is in full swing and the glowing fires are rich and warm.
At least it felt so. In actuality, there is only one actor on stage. And almost no set. Ray Dooley’s solo performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is appropriately billed as “an intimate evening of storytelling.” Its intimacy — and simplicity — is its greatest strength. Under the careful guidance of director Michael Perlman, Dooley takes our hand and guides us through the pages of Dickens’ 1843 novella, just as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present guide Uncle Ebenezer.
This stage adaptation by William Leach reads much like the novella itself. It does not feel like a monologue or one-man play, but rather a rich bedtime story, told by your favorite uncle — with the Kenan Theatre as our fireside. And like your favorite uncle, Dooley acts out all the parts and provides the necessary ambiance.
If memorizing the 45-page text were not impressive enough, Ray Dooley ably glides between all of Charles Dickens’ characters without flamboyance or hamminess. Subtle, but strikingly clear changes in pose and voice make costume changes unnecessary. Dooley plays Scrooge, the Cratchit family, the four Ghosts, and the entire City of London as though jumping from instrument to instrument in a one-man orchestra. The few opening-night line stumbles during the Thursday, Dec. 14th, performance were easily forgiven.
A few bell chimes and an unobtrusive music cue or two are the only supporting sounds. A few bits of hanging garland, a stool, and a single Victorian table (which serves cleverly as everything from a fireplace to a tombstone) upon a black platform is our only set. Lighting designer Dominic Abbenante employs practical Victorian lamp posts, while colored stage lights ferry us from one magical setting to another with expert finesse. The transitions are almost imperceptible and allow the 95-minute piece to fly by.
PlayMakers Rep legend Ray Dooley, credited simply as The Storyteller, tells this story with overwhelming love and passion for its content and its characters. He stays out of the text’s way and brings it to life without adding clutter. Dooley boldly captures the wit, terror, and magic of Charles Dickens’ classic tale in a production of A Christmas Carol like none other — one that eliminates all distraction and envelopes us in the pure spirit of Dickens.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 13th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-christmas-carol/Event?oid=7494478. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 12th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/12/ray-dooley-brings-scrooge-co-to-life-in-a-christmas-carol-on-dec-12-23-at-playmakers-rep/.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL, starring Ray Dooley, at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16, 2 p.m. Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19-22, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up .
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, email@example.com, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/christmas-carol/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/135614707080710/.
2017-18 SEASON: https://playmakersrep.org/season/2017-2018-season/
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: This show is recommended for audiences nine years of age and older.
NOTE 3: There will be preshow concerts, starting 30 minutes before the curtain rises. Performers include the Chapel Hill High School Orchestra (Dec. 15th); the UNC Pauper Players (Dec. 16th); Avante (Dec. 17th); and MYCO (Dec. 19th, 21st, and 23rd).
A Christmas Carol (1843 novel, nee A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas): http://charlesdickenspage.com/carol.html (David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page), http://web.archive.org/web/20080825120326/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DicChri.html (text courtesy University of Virginia Library), and http://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/dickens/ChristmasCarol/1# (facsimile of the novel’s manuscript at the Morgan Library & Museum), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol (Wikipedia).
Charles Dickens (English novelist, 1812-70): http://www.dickens2012.org/ (Dickens 2012), http://www.dickensfellowship.org/ (The Dickens Fellowship), http://charlesdickenspage.com/index.html (David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens (Wikipedia).
Michael Perlman (New York City director): http://www.michaelsperlman.com/ (official website), https://playmakersrep.org/artists/michael-perlman/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/michael-perlman-504367 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4358864/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/michael.perlman.374 (Facebook page).
Ray Dooley (Chapel Hill, NC actor): http://drama.unc.edu/faculty-member/ray-dooley/ (UNC faculty bio), https://playmakersrep.org/artists/ray-dooley/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/18744 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ray-dooley-78324 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1641948/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ray.dooley.54 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/rdooleync (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Dooley (Wikipedia).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.