By Manning Harris
The Alliance Theatre is presenting its legendary production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” on their main stage, running through Dec. 29.
It’s a huge, lush production, adapted by David H. Bell, with gorgeous sets by D Martyn Bookwalter and exquisite costumes by Mariann Verheyen. It’s almost worth the price of admission for these alone.
Happily, there is much more: the timeless story of stingy, crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve, the huge and talented cast, and most of all the radical, transformative idea that one is capable of positive change at anytime.
However, this year is something special, for it is famed Atlanta actor Chris Kayser’s swan song as Scrooge—his 16th time portraying everyone’s favorite curmudgeon. The 64-year-old actor has decided to walk away from the role while he is still enjoying it; he speaks of his decision in an interview with Kathy Janich in the theatre program.
Here is where this review may turn into a personal tribute to Mr. Kayser; if it does, so be it. I think it is safe to say that he knows how to play this role. He could, if he chose, coast on his mastery and familiarity with the part and “phone it in,” as they say.
But he doesn’t do this. Instead, he chooses to explore and probe even deeper, like the true performing artist he is—always searching for perfection in his art.
He comes on as Scrooge, and instantly you sense a deeper unhappiness and discontent in himself, not merely some stereotypical tightwad. This year Scrooge seems older (yes, I know he actually is), full of painful facial tics and and an unhappy bewilderment. His eyes and mouth and posture react to every word spoken to him, to everything going on around him. Many actors don’t know that the essence of good acting is found in concentrated listening and reacting. Mr. Kayser does know.
Consequently, for this viewer his Scrooge is really a tragic figure. It is not until his joyful transformation near the end that the long suppressed generosity and kindness in his soul burst forth. It’s a cathartic moment for Scrooge and the entire audience; you can feel a huge sigh released from everyone.
Of course, it took spectral visitations (you know about the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future) and urgings and pleadings from relatives and would-be friends alike. Another theme, more apparent than ever this year: No man is an island; we can’t achieve happiness on a rock by ourselves.
The large cast, directed by Rosemary Newcott, boasts some of Atlanta’s finest actors: Andrew Benator, Je Nie Fleming, Bart Hansard, Joe Knezevich, to name a few. I can’t mention them all. If you go (and surely you will), they’re all listed in the program, with pictures (including an adorable Jaden Robinson as Tiny Tim)!
There is music (Michael Fauss, music director); there is even flying (provided by D2 Flying Effects).
I temper my admiration for the evening just a tad by reminding the cast that they are playing in a large theatre to a virtually sold-out house. Vocal projection of every word and syllable is needed, and is usually there. I also think the pace could be a hair faster at times.
But I quibble: It’s a grand evening for children and adults alike; and it’s Chris Kayser’s evening. It’s a joy to see him soar one final time in this role.
For tickets an information, visit alliancetheatre.org.