The Spirit Shines Through in Americana’s ‘Carol’

Jesse Sullivan as Charles E. Richardson and Kelly Ann Dunn as Nancy Manette in “An Americana Christmas Carol.” Photo: Denise Maccaferri

ON BOSTON STAGES – You can bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate it.

No matter how much you might change or adapt Charles Dickens’ 1843 masterpiece “A Christmas Carol,” the spirit of the piece always comes shining through.

And that goes for the Americana Theater Company’s world premiere adaptation, “An Americana Christmas Carol,” now being presented through Dec. 18 at the Plymouth Center for the Arts. It is an original, creative, well-crafted take on the Dickens tale by Americana, a professional theater company in residence in Plymouth.

The adaptation was written by Americana company members Jesse Sullivan and Derek Grant Martin, who directs the production.  Sullivan portrays Charles E. Richardson, a noted actor portraying Scrooge in a production of “A Christmas Carol.”

He is producing the show with his partner Isabella Summerson, and the two have a long history together that is now all business. But the atmosphere at a rehearsal of the show is tense as the lighting fails, and actors flub their lines or go missing. Then Charles drops a bomb on Isabella  – he has made a deal with the production’s investors that gives him a 20 percent higher stake and creative control.

Meanwhile, anything that can go wrong is going wrong, much like another backstage comedy: Michael Frayn’s frantic farce “Noises Off.”  Just as in that show, in this “Carol,” members of the company are connected in ways that will become apparent as the rehearsal continues to disintegrate.

Payton Gobeille as Isabella Summerson and Jesse Sullivan as Charles E. Richardson in
“An Americana Christmas Carol.” Photo: Denise Maccaferri

The characters also include Evan Crocker as Robbie Oliver, the epitome of the frustrated stage manager who is at the end of his theatrical rope; Jesse Winton as actor Nash Dawkins, shining in a variety of roles, including a young Richardson in an important scene with Kaitlin Costa as a Yeung Isabella.

Connor Northcutt is actor Mike Nickleby, who during a rehearsal is a tongue-tied  Jacob Marley and utters a name that cuts Richardson to the quick; this Marley is not only a warning for Scrooge, but Richardson as well.

And so, slowly but surely, we realize we’ve entered a play within the play, an alternate universe running parallel to the traditional “Christmas Carol.”

This is a true ensemble effort and a show that moves quickly  with almost every actor playing multiple roles, so all are  important. That includes Arthur “Arty” Sullivan, in the capable hands of David Friday, who seems modeled after Uncle Billy in the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He’s a pro, but an aging and flawed one, with a long friendship and history with Richardson. But when a bigger name suddenly becomes available, Richardson has no qualms about shoving him aside. Friday also makes for a  haunting Ghost of Christmas Present.

The cast also includes Aubrey Elson as costume designer Debbie Copperfield and Mrs. Fezziwig; Kelly Ann Dunn as actress Nancy Manette, playing the Ghost of Christmas Past and involved with another company member; and the talented young Henry Dembowski as actor Jimmy Bates, who has an important scene as Young Charles Richardson.

And ultimately, there will come a reckoning for Sullivan’s Richardson, as three spirits will examine how, during a long life and successful career, he has treated those around him – even those he loved and were closest to him.

And it will reveal how little he knows – or cares to know – about his colleagues in the show and their problems, and how he might ease the way for young actors such as Mike Nickleby and Nancy Manette.

To go any further would spoil the surprises Martin and Sullivan have in store. But be advised that, by the final scene, redemption will be in the air and the warmth of the season – and the tale — will shine within you.

The Americana Theatre Company world premiere production of “An Americana Christmas Carol.” Written by Derek Grant Martin and Jesse M. Sullivan. Directed by Martin. Production stage manager: Jenny DaSilva. Sound design: Derek Grant Martin and Jenny DaSilva. Set and lighting design: Derek Grant Martin.  Costumes: Peyton Gobeille. At the Plymouth Center for the Arts, 11 North St., Plymouth through Dec. 18. Americanatheatre.org

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By Rich Fahey