IRT’s ‘Carol’ an all-new old tradition

By John Lyle Belden

It’s that time of year again, but what the figgy pudding is going on at the Indiana Repertory Theatre?

IRT, under the eye of Margot Lacy Eccles Artistic Director Janet Allen, presents Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Tom Haas and directed by IRT Playwright in Residence James Still – a return to the company’s annual holiday tradition. But some things are different.

In a quest to keep the old ghost story fresh, the narrative emphasizes some different moments in the original text. Adapting to potential pandemic restrictions, the cast of actors was cut in half. Also, a past Scrooge and Bob Cratchit have switched places. The endlessly versatile and entertaining Rob Johansen now plays the old miser, while Ryan Artzberger, in roles that include the poor clerk, leads the ensemble of Will Mobley, Nina Jayashankar, David Alan Anderson, Maria Argentina Souza, Jennifer Johansen, and Quinton Gildon, who not only plays Tiny Tim, but every young boy the script calls for. The multi-ethnic casting works (London has long had many colours of citizenry) and reminds us this is a story for and appreciated by the whole world.

This production keeps the practice of the cast reciting the narrative as they act it, like we’re all being read a Christmas story, with props and hints of scenery flowing in and out of an endless snowbank – with new stylistic tweaks. Kudos to costume designer Linda Pisano for the look of the Ghosts, especially the Jack Frost-inspired outfit on Souza as Christmas Past.

The story is comfortingly familiar, from spooky moments to happy ending, and whether you have seen an IRT “Carol” before or are new (I did meet a couple of first-timers!), you are in for a holiday treat. Performances run through December 26 (Boxing Day in the land of Dickens) at 140 W. Washington St. (near Circle Centre) in downtown Indy. Get information and tickets at irtlive.com.

IRT blesses us, every one

By John Lyle Belden

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – you know it; everyone knows it.

The Scrooge-bahhumbug-Crachits-Tiny-Tim-Marley-three-ghosts-Godblessuseveryone story is nearly as familiar as the Nativity. In fact, some of our favorite tellings take great liberties with the story, like the Muppet version or the movie “Scrooged.”

But it is also promoted as a proper holiday tradition, faithfully executed, every year at Indiana Repertory Theatre. So, how do they keep it reliable, yet unique?

Start with the Tom Haas script, which hews fairly closely to the source material. Under director Janet Allen, have the cast tell the story as they portray the events, in a pudding-smooth blend of narration and action.

Keep the set simple, as scenic designer Russell Metheny has done. The dominant feature is the drifts of snow absolutely everywhere – pure white like holiday magic, yet also a constant desolate reminder of the dangerous cold of a Victorian English winter. Setpieces drift in and out, and a simple large frame sees duty in many ways – a doorway, a mirror, a passage to what comes next.

Cast some of the best talent in Indy, including a number of IRT regulars, starting with the brilliant Ryan Artzberger as Scrooge. Other familiar faces include Charles Goad, Mark Goetzinger and the luminous Millicent Wright. You may also recognize Emily Ristine, Scot Greenwell and Jennifer Johansen. Then there are Jeremy Fisher, Charles Pasternak, Ashley Dillard and Joey Collins. And mix in some great young talent as well, such as Tobin Seiple and Maddie Medley, who take turns as Tiny Tim.

Present it all in a single movie-length performance, submersing the audience into the story until we can’t help but get caught up in it. Of course, we know what’s going to happen next, but with the spirit of live theatre taking us along, we don’t just watch the play, we experience it.

I feel like a bit of a Scrooge sometimes, thinking of things like the Dickens story as stale and overdone; but having seen what IRT does with it, I now see why all those who go back every year enjoy it so much. You, also, might want to consider adding this show to your list of cherished holiday traditions.

Performances continue through Christmas Eve at the IRT, 140 W. Washington St. (near Circle Centre) in downtown Indy. Get information and tickets at www.irtlive.com.