A richly immersive ghost story in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Olney

Performed solo by Paul Morella the way Dickens intended.

If you’re reading this, I’ll bet we share the opinion that the Christmas season isn’t complete without A Christmas Carol. We also may share the fact that we have a loved one who is so over it. For me, it’s my husband, who’s seen the show so many times that he’s lost enthusiasm for it. He comes with me to the theater because he’s a sweet man, and he doesn’t complain (much), but I can see his eyes begin to glaze over as he settles into his seat. What he doesn’t yet know is that Olney Theatre Center’s A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas is different from what we’re all used to. Now in its twelfth year, this production is a one-person show adapted, directed, and performed by Paul Morella.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

While the idea of a solo-performance Christmas Carol may be surprising, Morella’s adaptation is actually the story’s most authentic form. Charles Dickens wrote it to be performed aloud in the first person as an immersive, nuanced narrative. A Christmas Carol, after all, is a ghost story, and it’s meant to be experienced like one. Morella keeps 99.5% of the original material from Dickens’s novella, making this just about the purest and truest version out there, shared the way its author intended.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

With no supporting cast, a lot is expected from the technical team, and they deliver. Lighting Designer Sonya Dowhaluk does a fantastic job helping flesh out the story, using shadow work and spotlighting to convey emotion. Original Sound Designer Edward Moser and re-mounting Sound Designer Justin Schmitz use several techniques to support Morella’s performance. This is most notable during Scrooge’s visits from the spirits, be it an echoing mic effect or cues for clinking chains and creaky doors. Lastly, Patrick W. Lord’s projections add another layer to the show and give the audience more imagery to work with. Stage fog is also used at certain times, giving a particularly eerie effect. These contributions from the creative team give Morella a great platform and wider range for his performance.

Morella, wearing a traditional Victorian suit, encourages the audience to use their imagination before beginning his performance. He goes on to narrate the story, complete with about 50 separate characters! Morella uses a variety of voices, inflections, and physical expressions so that each character stands out individually. My favorite has to be his portrayal of Mrs. Cratchit, who fusses over her family’s Christmas dinner while her excitable children run around the house. The prose is beautifully detailed and flows in a rhythmic way that’s almost hypnotic at times. It’s easy to get immersed in this story.

Since the unaltered text can be labeled by some as “old-timey,” a useful program aid is provided, which includes a glossary of Victorian words and sayings that have long since fallen out of fashion. For English literature enthusiasts, Morella’s performance is nothing less than entrancing—and for their husbands (wink) there is plenty of support offered so that they don’t get too lost in the outdated diction. Olney’s website also has Morella’s own list of frequently asked questions about not only the show but the history that surrounds it. The extra facts and insights make the evening all the more interesting.

Paul Morella in ‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

If you want to experience this classic tale in a new (but really very old!) way, Olney Theatre Center’s A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas is a great choice, and Morella’s rich performance is sure to stay with you for a while.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas plays through December 26, 2021, in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center—2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD. Tickets begin at $40. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military, and students. Tickets can be purchased online.

COVID Safety: Masks and proof of COVID vaccination are required at all performances. See Olney’s complete Health and Safety policy here.

Age Guidance:  Recommended for age 10 and up. If this were a film it would be rated PG.


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