Serelle Strickland

A joyful miser: ‘Christmas Carol’ at Portland Playhouse

For the fourth year, the Playhouse's touching version of the Dickens classic lights up the stage

A recent article surfaced from the think tank the Acton Institute, supported by the next secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, which wants us to “rethink our position on child labor.” When Charles Dickens penned the novella A Christmas Carol in 1843, he had in mind the women and children he termed “victims of the Industrial Revolution”: the poor London souls who toiled to early deaths under the smokestacks of early factories. For all the Scrooges out there who’ve grown tired of the Currier and Ives Victorian death grip on the holiday aesthetic, this seasonal reminder of Christmases past, present, and yet to come may be the snake oil your hot cider needs.

At Portland Playhouse, which has opened the fourth annual production of its multiple award-winning version of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge – a delicious Dickens name and noun, somewhere between screw and gouge – is immediately distinguishable from the rest of the characters onstage. Jen Rowe’s Scrooge wears a perma-scowl, and loafs with a purposed business shuffle. She wears a black dovetail suit, her hair is pulled back with pincher precision, and her complexion is near ash. Scrooge the misanthrope, horrible old miser, pales in the sights of the rosy-cheeked and ornately clothed villagers. Rowe’s diction is on point, like a rusty typewriter key punching paper. She takes little to no time looking up from her counting ledger, except to raise an eyebrow in disapproval or her can’t-be-bothered voice.

A light in the darkness: Portland Playhouse's "A Christmas Carol." Photo: Brud Giles

A light in the darkness: The Playhouse’s “Christmas Carol.” Photo: Brud Giles

The outside of the old church where Portland Playhouse makes its home looks more like late autumn. The neighborhood is filled with a few Christmas baubles in the yards, but mostly decorated with protest signs. Once you’re in the door of the theater, the angry aura of the president-elect is swept away in a candlelit hue. Cockney accents of passersby welcome you, and the warm voices of what seems a spontaneous choir reach your ears. The scene for Portland Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol is an immersive dunk into a world long gone by.

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