Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, now playing at Miners Alley, walks the line between comedy and moments of real pathos. Barlow is the author of the Tony-winning The 39 Steps, a sendup of Hitchcock that’s also an homage, and his witty Christmas Carol script is fairly faithful to the well-known story of Scrooge’s conversion. Here it's told by five actors, and with the exception of Jim Hunt, who’s Scrooge, everyone here plays multiple roles: human, ghostly and sometimes inanimate, like a door, chair or blazing fire. There’s lots of comic business, but Barlow stays true to the heart of the story: Scrooge’s conversion and spiritual rebirth.
This Scrooge is a money lender who early in the show offers five pounds to the desperately poor mother of several children, then reveals the 100 percent interest due in a week. He sneers at the ghostly manifestations, at one point circling the stage and calling on a promised spirit who hasn’t yet arrived, “Ghosty. Ghosty. Ghosty,” like a man searching for a lost cat.
The Miners Alley production, directed by Len Matheo and Meridith C. Grundei, has humor and charm and makes for a fun holiday evening, but it’s not as moving as it could be, and, conversely, the humor isn’t sharp enough. Many of the laughs come from some shameless and horribly loud overacting. There's a slew of hastily babbled accents on stage, and the attention in general isn’t on the dialogue. Lisa DeCaro, who does a couple of charming turns as the desperate mother at the beginning and young Scrooge’s fiancée, gives the Ghost of Christmas Present a melodious Irish accent, but speaks so fast that the words flow past your ears without entering.
I’m not sure why a play I’ve seen described in reviews as a fast ninety minutes goes on for two hours, but this version definitely needs cutting. And isn’t Tiny Tim supposed to be a puppet? Here he’s simply invisible, and while actors kissing the air above an empty stool on which the tot is supposedly sitting got a lot of laughter from the audience, it removed the emotional heart of the story.
But just as in the original Dickens story, there is redemption. It comes from the always excellent Josh Hartwell, who’s very funny as Marley’s Ghost and also gentle and touching as Bob Cratchit. And Hunt gives everything he has to Scrooge, capering like a grinning idiot while insisting that everything is “ticketyboo,” mean as the mouth of hell itself when denying his clerk the simple warmth of an extra piece of coal, and so profoundly invested in Scrooge’s joyous transformation that you can’t help laughing along with him — even while blinking back a tear or two.
A Christmas Carol, presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through December 23 at 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden. For information, call 303-935-3044 or go to minersalley.com.
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