A Christmas Carol at IRT:

For many of us, experiencing Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is an unbreakable holiday tradition. Everyone has a favorite version and very particular ways about how it should be done–it should be scary! It should be funny! It should be kid-friendly! It should be serious!

Unfortunately, the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s version of A Christmas Carol tries to be all things to all people. While it’s a cute, well-staged show that might appeal to children, it appeals little to adults and breaks no new ground in this holiday classic.

A young Ebeneezer Scrooge (Matthew Brumlow) dances with his lady love Belle (Minita Gandhi).

The show is plagued right off the bat with a strange casting choice for Ebeneezer Scrooge. Instead of choosing a wizened old man, the production cast IRT veteran Ryan Artzberger as the covetous old sinner. Artzberger is, at the outside, 35 years old. This presents some narrative problems: Scrooge is now the same age as his nephew Fred, and his entire life becomes compressed. Scrooge’s long-ago love affair with Belle suddenly becomes a matter that must have ended only a few years ago.

Ebeneezer Scrooge (Ryan Artzberger) with Tiny Tim (Gracie Evans)

Besides the issue of age, Artzberger simply doesn’t make sense in the role. I’m not sure if it’s direction or the actor, but Scrooge laughs, chortles, giggles and snickers his way through the role. After having his epiphany at the hands of the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge becomes a bumbling, slapstick idiot, constantly producing a high, inane giggle. It’s bizarre.

Likewise, the stage adaptation, written by Tom Haas, suffers from significant problems. Rather than having one narrator to deliver some of Dicken’s most iconic lines, the narrative ball is passed among the entire cast, with actors giving narration as asides. Sometimes the entire cast will speak the line, making it difficult to understand. The script also fails to truly show us the arc of Scrooge’s change of heart. We never see Scrooge reflecting on what he’s learned in his visions, and Artzberger doesn’t show us much emotion as he watches the scenes of Scrooge’s life unfold.

On the plus side, the supporting cast has some real gems. Matthew Brumlow shines as both Fred and a Young Scrooge, and Rob Johansen brings genuine warmth to the wholesome role of Bob Cratchit. Minita Gandhi is beautiful as both Belle and Martha Crachit, and the entire cast of children do a fine job.

Bob Cratchit (Rob Johnansen) hoists Tiny Tim (Gracie Evans)

As always at the IRT, the stage design is impeccable. Snow covers the entire stage, and the actors use it well, having impromptu snowball fights with the audience and each other. Trap doors are used to great and surprising effect, and the lighting is appropriately eerie and Christmasy as needs dictate. I especially loved the use of dollhouses on sleds to depict different scenes in Scrooge’s life. Lighting design is lovely, especially with regard to Dickens’ beloved lamplighters.

IRT does a great job appealing to kids with this show and getting everyone into the holiday spirit. Madrigal singers filled the lobby and an elf and a reindeer stood outside on the day I visited. It’s a wonderfully festive atmosphere. Kids will truly enjoy the show, but it might just all feel a bit too familiar to adults.

The messages of love, goodwill, concern for humanity and helping the less fortunate have never been more relevant. But this production chooses to gloss over those deeper meanings in favor of slapstick. And maybe that’s okay, but I wanted a bit more meat on my Christmas goose.

The reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of IRT. St. Vincent Health Presents Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will run through December 24. Tickets and more information are available at IRTlive.com.