Review: ‘A Christmas Carol Memory’ at Creative Cauldron

Right in time for the Holiday Season, Creative Cauldron has presented another installation from their Bold New Works project with the World Premiere of A Christmas Carol Memory. Adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the classic tale is framed with a more modern, and perhaps relevant, story of a broken family clinging to the traditions that once brought them together. Creative Cauldron’s Producing Director, Lauren Connors Hull, conceived and directed this new piece, with Book by Jennifer Clements.

Katie Culligan, Jennifer Pagnard, Will Mark Stevenson, Doug Robinson, and David Schmidt. Photo Courtesy of Gary Mester.
Katie Culligan, Jennifer Pagnard, Will Mark Stevenson, Doug Robinson, and David Schmidt. Photo Courtesy of Gary Mester.

The story is set around a family dealing with death in a variety of ways. The impressively talented Madeline Aldana is Charlotte, a young girl who has recently lost her father in an accident and gone to live with her quirky Aunt Elizabeth, played by Kathy Halenda. The remaining family has gathered for Christmas Eve dinner but, instead of a feeling of festivity, the conversation is dominated by a difference in opinion on Charlotte and appropriate ways to grieve.

Adding to the tension, Charlotte sees the ghost of her late Grandpa (David Schmidt) while in the attic looking for ornaments to put on the tree.  Grandpa helps Charlotte discover a trunk filled with old puppets that Grandpa made for the family to use to reenact Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every year, as a part of their family tradition. Determined to bring the family together, Elizabeth persuades her sister Ellen, played by Jennifer Pagnard, and the group to put on the play, once more. But in acting out these ghosts from Dickens’ story, the family drudges up their own secrets and regrets that cannot be packed away, once brought to light.

Dickens’ story becomes a play-within-the-play as the characters perform A Christmas Carol.  Each person acts out various parts and uses the puppets, which represent the spirit of Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Margie Jervis, Creative Cauldron’s Resident Artistic Designer, has crafted these immense puppets and they are truly the highlight of the show. They are large, some taking two actors to manipulate, with exaggerated features and long flowing cloth. The cast does an incredible job breathing life into these gorgeous creations and with the help of Lighting Designer John Sami, generate some of the most impressive and eerie moments of the show.

The Ghost of Christmas Past has a light ethereal voice and glides through the air, as she guides Scrooge (appropriately played by Schmidt’s Grandpa) through scenes from his youth.

The Ghost of Christmas Present brings Scrooge to the happy home of his nephew Fred (Doug Robinson) and his wife (Katie Culligan), and the impoverished home of Bob Cratchit (Will Mark Stevenson).  The Ghost’s booming voice (Harv Lester) and immense size is intimidating but also beautifully conveys the joy and hope that the Ghost of Christmas Present represents.

Marley’s Ghost. Poto courtesy of Noah Taylor.
Marley’s Ghost. Photo courtesy of Noah Taylor.

A crack of thunder and drastic lighting effects introduce the Ghost of Christmas Future. This puppet is huge, dark, and ominous and appears to hover above the ground, taking the reluctant Scrooge to the apparent future that his greed and selfishness has laid out for him.

The cast also includes several other young children. James Durham, who plays Noah, Child Scrooge, and Tiny Tim, is an absolute delight to watch and looks very at home on the stage. He is joined by Libby Brooke, Constance Meade, and Arianna Vargas, who each play various characters and bring great energy and excitement into the show.

As is expected with new works, the show has room for improvement. The Cauldron’s small space is not usually felt, but in this particular production there were many moments that the actors seemed to feel the restriction of the black box theater. Staging sometimes crowded them against the audience and briefly distracted from the action of the play.

And while the plot was very relatable, the text could use some polishing to help with the fluidity of the story. Charlotte’s loss appears to be the center of the play but new issues are added and the transitions of focus are not seamless. Aunt Elizabeth has a lost love that complicates her history with her father (Grandpa), but her distress is calmed almost as hastily as it appears.  And later in the show, Elizabeth and her sister Ellen, who have been butting heads the entire evening, get into a shouting match, over Grandpa, the puppets, and their different perceptions of the past that escalates unexpectedly but, again, quickly finds resolution before it is clear where each of conflicts tie in together.While the specific arch of the story is in question, the reoccurring theme of tradition and contrition is clear and the play overall has a lot of potential.

David Schmidt, Kathy Halenda, and Madeline Aldana. Photo by Noah Taylor.
David Schmidt, Kathy Halenda, and Madeline Aldana. Photo by Noah Taylor.

Creative Cauldron’s A Christmas Carol Memory has a very strong and talented cast. Add to that the incredible puppets of Margie Jervis and Creative Cauldron brings an entertaining production that will satisfy this time of year’s holiday craving for Dickens and all things Christmas.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

A Christmas Carol Memory plays through December 20, 2016, at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.



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