REVIEW

Williamston Theatre reinvents Christmas classic

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Williamston Theatre has a history of producing outstanding plays designed to cultivate good cheer for the holiday season. Past productions included two unique variations of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” One was told from Jacob Marley’s point of view, another revisited Scrooge 15 years after the events of “Carol,” as he experiences his last Christmas. This year, Williamston Theatre adds to that rich history by presenting “A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show.”

The play takes place on Christmas Eve 1947 at an aptly named radio station, WXMS. As per tradition, the station is supposed to present a live production of “A Christmas Carol,” but all of the radio talent are snowed in. Fortunately, Bob Bennett (Aral Gribble), the foley sound effects artist responsible for the soundtrack, is able to make it to the station. Bob insists the show must go on, and, along with an unseen sound board operator, he launches into a one-man performance.

Playwright David Albert wastes little time setting up the premise and doesn’t fall back on farce. Instead of making Bob a bungling goof, Albert has created a script that allows a skilled actor to shine in the role. Gribble is such an actor. He has proved in past productions, such as Williamston’s “Greater Tuna” in 2010, that he can juggle multiple characters and change between them in quick succession. This skill is imperative to the success of this one-man show.

Not only does Gribble need to juggle characters, he also has to juggle instruments as he performs the script. Gribble deftly works the many tables, racks and machines of noisemaking, which also provides the audience with an education of the ingenuity and simplicity of foley sound effects artists.

A box of corn starch makes footsteps crunching through snow, a bit of cellophane makes a warm crackling fire and a tin can strung with a leather lace makes a creepy creaking door when twisted just right. It is tempting to close one’s eyes and experience the play as it is supposedly meant to be heard, but to do so would mean missing Gribble’s gleeful gleam.

In addition to Michelle Raymond’s complex prop design, Kirk Domer has created a lush set, adorned in warm gold tones and a rich red drapery that create a cozy and Christmas-y environment. The lighting design by Dustin Miller is at first subtle, but as the story rushes headlong toward the Christmases yet to come, the lighting intensifies along with Scrooge’s horror. This scene is critical in providing the play with the right amount of tension and gravitas that keeps the play from being just a fluffy bit of fun.

In the end, however, the play is great fun. Because this is a “live” radio show, there is no intermission. Like the Energizer bunny, Gribble goes and goes for 80 minutes non-stop, fueled in part by the energy from the audience. The conceit of a live radio show allows the audience to play a role in the show, as the audience of the live broadcast. As such, be prepared to applaud on cue and study up on famous Tiny Tim quotes. 

“A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show”

$10-28

Through Dec. 22

Williamston Theatre

122 S. Putnam St., Williamston

(517) 655-7469, williamstontheatre.org

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