Appearing in CATCO’s A Christmas Carol are (from left): Ken Erney, Emily Turner and Ben Sostrom (Red Generation Photography)
A few Decembers ago, I wrote a column complaining that Columbus had no local productions of A Christmas Carol. I went so far as to suggest that people travel to Cincinnati or Cleveland to catch the heartwarming holiday chestnut. No need for that this year. We now have no fewer than three local shows that spread Charles Dickens’s timeless message of generosity and redemption. One is a musical (Shadowbox Live’s Scrooge), one features a female Scrooge (Columbus Civic Theater’s A Christmas Carol), and one is a new adaptation that amounts to a play within a play. Written by Patrick Barlow and presented by CATCO, this version begins as a small group of British actors gather in a deserted London theater during World War II. After one of them passes out copies of the script, they begin acting out the familiar story of the 19th century skinflint who considers the Christmas season an affront to rationality. In other words, “humbug.” How do World War II and the German blitzkrieg dovetail into Dickens’s morality tale? Well, they don’t. After doling out the parts, the fictitious actors simply go about the business of leading us through Scrooge’s spiritual journey. We’re sometimes reminded that we’re seeing a performance, as when a hammy thespian doesn’t quite disappear into his various roles or when cast members are seen creating smoke and sound effects, but we’re never reminded that the surrounding city is under siege. For Dickens fans, this is good news. All we really want is another chance to share Scrooge’s spooky but heartwarming trip, and that’s what we get from director Joe Bishara and his sparkling cast. Ken Erney is perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge, being humorously flinty yet vulnerable. Other cast members shift effortlessly among major and minor characters. The actors and their prime roles: Matt Clemens (Scrooge’s nephew), Ben Sostrom (Marley’s ghost), Liz Wheeler (Spirit of Christmas Past), Dani Mann (Spirit of Christmas Present), Emily Turner (Scrooge’s childhood girlfriend and Tiny Tim) and Japheal Bondurant (Mr. Fezziwig). In addition, Ben Hartwig joins Turner and Bondurant in the “chorus,” whose duties include singing and special effects. Though the cast includes no children, the production cleverly gets around this limitation by having young Ebenezer and Tiny Tim played by puppets. Michael S. Brewer’s scenic design, depicting a dusty old theater, combines with Marcia Hain’s Victorian-era costumes to set the proper atmosphere. Doug Northeim’s lighting and Keya Myers-Alkire’s sound design add mood and magic. My one quibble with Barlow’s adaptation of the classic tale is that he dilutes the powerful ending with a puzzling detour and excess verbosity. For the most part, though, he’s smart enough to add his own wrinkle and then get out of Dickens’s way. The original A Christmas Carol has been credited with turning the holiday into the celebration of giving that it is today. Though society has distorted its message by instituting an orgy of shopping and spending, CATCO’s production reminds us that the best way to observe the season is by looking past our own interests and honing a spirit of generosity and kindness. CATCO will present A Christmas Carol through Dec. 22 in Studio One, Riffe Center, 77 S. High St. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes (including intermission). Show times are 11 a.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $11.50 for Wednesday matinees, $41 for Thursdays and Sundays, $45 for Fridays and Saturdays, $15 for students 18 and younger. (Older students can buy $15 tickets beginning two hours before each performance.) 614-469-0939 or CUTLINE:

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