Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol starts off spooky. The Abrons Arts Center stage is lit by glowing candles, further hushed by red velvet drapes, a coffin stands facing the audience, with a shadowy head at its tip. Even before the production begins, I get the feeling that eyes from the head are looking at me. The audience is being watched.
The show starts with a moan, as the deathly face bursts to life, revealing actor John Forkner, the narrator of our tale. With perfect pomp and a dash of sardonic wit, he opens a large book to read this legendary Christmas tale of Scrooge. Holding the pages open toward the audience so we can see vivid projections of moving images, Forkner recites.
The story comes to life as Everett Quinton hobbles onstage as the miserly Scrooge, a character who is the antithesis of holiday cheer. Quinton is brilliant and unique, wearing a constant scowl that seems set in the very fibers of his face. He is his own Scrooge but many others, throughout the trippy performance, are projected over the characters’ faces on sliding screens and slates. From the Muppets to Bill Murray, multiple versions and enactments of the classic story are illuminated over the principal characters, creating both a feeling of vertigo and consumption.
Farrington’s production also underlines the timelessness of this holiday tale. By portraying Scrooge and his ghosts throughout the ages, Farrington creates his own unique vision while also layering the characters.
The cast and crew make the timing of all visual effects seem effortless, perfectly in sync and deliciously exaggerated, the production captures the frantic energy and cheer of holiday time. Multimedia works especially well when Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas–they are terrifying and larger than life, leaving Quinton quaking in Scrooge’s shoes and making his transformation from cruel miser to benevolent cheer-giver convincing and purposeful.
Also interesting in Scrooge’s character is his corporate contempt, his fascination with money and earning which leaves him lonely. In an age when prep for the holiday season starts in July and spending is emphasized and encouraged, it’s heartwarming to see Christmas celebrated for bringing people together rather than opening wallets.
A Christmas Carol is also very much about mortality, and though the creepiness of the opening scene lingers throughout the play, there is bold camaraderie and buoyant acting that leave me feeling glowy and warm, despite the cold and the fact that my family lights a Hanukkah menorah and not a pine tree.
A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 23 at Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St. Tickets: $25 adults, $15 seniors and students.