The Naples Players’ production of “A Christmas Carol” is an outstanding, inventive staging of the Dickens tale. It is possibly, from a creative point of view, the best thing they have ever done.
The script is by novelist John Jakes, whose principal contribution — aside from a couple of unnecessary interpolations — is the insertion of Charles Dickens himself as a character. It is a useful device and all the more effective here because of the fine performance by Mark Vanagas in the role and because of the way in which director Dallas Dunnagan has worked Dickens into the story as a kind of stage-manager-cum-puppeteer.
Of course, the basic material here is sure-fire: an audience would need a heart colder than Scrooge’s to avoid being moved. A favorite moment of mine is the description of old Fezziwig, who “has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome.” I don’t know why that brings tears to my eyes, but it does, without fail.
The artistic team has taken the script as a jumping off point and introduced fresh theatrical concepts. The action began with the Dickens character before the curtain, reciting the famous beginning of the tale as Dickens himself would do on his famous reading tours. When the curtain went up the audience gave an involuntary murmur at the beautiful tableau created by the actors in frozen positions, in wonderful costumes set off by the purposefully gray set. The set is versatile and increasingly impressive as the action progresses. The ghosts are fantastic creatures, each larger and more impressive than the last, with Christmas Yet to Come a vast and ominous presence.
The cast is generally strong (though with dialogue by Dickens the parts practically play themselves). Vanagas is outstanding.
Meanwhile, over at TheatreZone, a lively production of “The Fantasticks.” The play retains much of its charm after 50 years. It is cast with strong actor-singers. Only Vincent Teschel as the boy is problematic, failing to convey the bravado that the role requires. Though he has a fine voice, he is off the mark, especially in the first act.
“The Fantasticks” has been around so long and is so well loved that even the staging in some productions seems mired in tradition. Mark Danni has not felt constrained to use the same blocking as everyone else, and he employs the space well — here is one time when the space at the G&S Theater is actually bigger than what is usually used for this play.
One strange thing: where are the laughs? Audiences at “The Fantasticks” used to be in hysterics all through the first act. The bowdlerization of the “Rape Song” into a more politically correct, and now unfunny, number is a big factor, but even the other business that used to get laughs no longer does. This is not unique to this production — the same thing happened in the production we saw in New York last year. Odd.
But if you haven’t ever seen “The Fantasticks,” you must complete your theater education by getting over there to see this solid production.