A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas at Olney Theatre Center

You’ve seen it on film, you’ve read it from the book, you’ve seen it animated, done up in Disney, and accompanied by Muppets, but you’ve never seen Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas with such spell-binding rapture and haunting moments as the production you will see at Olney Theatre Center. Solo performer Paul Morella takes the audience on Scrooge’s journey from darkness to light, from misery to redemption, from selfishness to generosity; a moving transformation profoundly resonated throughout the show as he embodies each of the well-loved characters from the classic Dickens’ tale.

Paul Morella in 'A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.' Photo by Stan Barouh.

An astonishing performance is presented to the audience as they are asked to bring along their imaginations so as to visualize the rich imagery of Dickens’ narrative and discover the depth of these characters as they are cycled through by Morella. Enhancing his incredibly performance is the unique lighting design provided by Sonya Dowhaluk. She provides narrowed focused lighting on our star, creating intimate moments for the audience to read every expression written across his face. Combined with the sound design efforts of Edward Moser, the pair creates an atmosphere most befitting of the miser and all the spirits he encounters. Two particularly stunning moments set in motion by Dowhaluk and Moser will catch the audience’s attention without delay. The empty stage darkens, the wind whispers and suddenly soft noise echoes through the house as a fog-lit blue lighting appears on Morella — standing not on stage but in the midst of the audience as he is first introduced.

The other more haunting moment comes when Morella steps forward as Scrooge to examine the door-knocker, which transforms into Marley’s face. In this moment the stage lighting is dimmed but blue lights bathe the performer and suddenly he looks as if he was a corpse reanimated, slowly talking in this blue haze, describing the features of Scrooge’s long deceased partner. Don’t blink, for in a moment the chilling effect has ceased and the normal lights return.

And if you’re ready for a chill be prepared for the ghost of Christmas Future. As Morella speaks an unseen fog slowly unfurls across the stage until it surrounds him and lingers in the air, creeping over him as the words creep from his lips of the nightmarish things he has yet to encounter.

Though we all know the tale at this time of year, you don’t factor in just how many characters Scrooge encounters. These rich, dynamic characters are portrayed to perfection by Morella as he slides easily from Narrator, to Scrooge, and countless others; embodying each with a specific voice and physicality, showing no difficulty shifting rapidly from one to the next. When Morella presents the ghost of Jacob Marley his facial expressions are exquisite; squeezing his eyes shut and contorting his facial muscles as if each word pained him to utter. He leaves his mouth gaping as he speaks, creating a gruesome ghost for all to see.

Paul Morella in 'A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.' Photo by Stan Barouh.

And aside from his high energetic embodiment of all the Cratchit children, racing about the room and exuding good merriment, Morella presents us with a bright new view to each encounter that Scrooge undertakes. He reacts and responds facially, physically, and vocally as if he himself is making each discovery for the very first time; a rare treasure to behold in an actor. It is a visual treat to allow your imagination to play with the characters he presents through simple vocal and physical shifts; bringing this story to new heightened life.

Paul Morella in "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.' Photo by Stan Barouh.

Do not miss this ghostly Christmas tale lest you be a miser. It isn’t too late to change your ways and get to the Olney Theatre to see Paul Morella present A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

A Christmas Carol runs through January 1, 2012, at Olney Theatre Center – 2001 Olney-Spring Road, in Olney, MD, For tickets, call (301) 924-4485, or purchase them online.