With the loss of so many of our cherished rituals and routines, it’s no wonder why Christmas trees have been seen twinkling through the windows of homes across the region earlier this season than ever. Despite all the hardship and adversity of this past year, this extraordinary time has granted us the opportunity to make old traditions anew.
Just like us, the Alley Theatre is embracing this moment with a fresh look at one of Houston’s greatest holiday traditions: their annual presentation of A Christmas Carol, available for free online through December 27. Fans of the show should be prepared for an entirely original depiction of the beloved tale that's unlike any they’ve seen before.
Though seemingly modest compared to the spectacular stage production local audiences have grown accustomed to, the measure of quality and heart that went into putting this socially distanced performance together during a year of countless uncertainties appears anything but small.
To make such a feat possible, the team at the Alley selected playwright Doris Baizley’s incredibly inventive adaptation, intended for a small cast and limited set pieces, that relies on a story-within-a-story structure involving a traveling acting company.
Production staff delivered special cameras, lights, and sound equipment to the homes of each cast member while also supplying them with their corresponding props and costumes. And the props they have on hand are certainly convincing, especially the hunger-inducing Christmas goose and the fog in a can, which are sure to generate a chuckle or two.
Alley’s virtual A Christmas Carol begins in the living room of the play-within-a-play’s stage manager (David Rainey) as he directs a young prop assistant (Mack Hutchison, who doubles as the sweet Tiny Tim) to collect props for the Dickens classic. Though the setup can be a little jarring at first for those accustomed to the glitz and glamor of the stage, that disconnect is soon remedied as the dialogue successfully transports viewers into this alternate holiday universe.
After discovering a few missing props, and, more importantly, absent lead actors, Rainey’s grumpy stage manager is hustled into the role of the comparably crotchety miser Ebenezer Scrooge, and, of course, learns a lesson or two of his own by curtain call. As the story continues, we see each of the 10 actors playing the fan-favorite roles from within their own homes, dressed head to toe in costume designer Erica Griese’s period garb.
Like Alley’s homebound setting, these Victorian costumes look a little out of place at first, but they soon transform the company members into seeming citizens of the early 1800’s as audiences grow accustomed to tuning out the modern decor in the background of each actor’s home.
Exciting sounds by audio designer Pierre Dupree and rhythmic editing, courtesy of Carrithers Studio, help to set the scene alongside the minimal stage dressing. Meanwhile, outstanding performances from both the resident company members and guest performers, including returning artist Raven Justine Troup (Belle and Mrs. Fred), make for a truly powerful experience.
You won’t want to miss out on David Rainey’s commanding Scrooge, Todd Waite’s frightening portrayal of Marley, or the collaborative work from the Hutchison-Bunch clan—Alley actors and real-life couple Elizabeth Bunch and Chris Hutchison alongside son, Mack—as the endearing Cratchit family.
Most importantly, the themes of hope, togetherness, and appreciation that weave through Dickens’s story resonate on screen as well as they do on the stage. In fact, the Alley’s virtual delivery might even make it easier for those all-important messages to reach those who need them the most at the end of a difficult year. What could possibly be more Christmasy than that?
Thru Dec 27. Free. Online. More info and registration at alleytheatre.org.