There is comfort in knowing that in this chaotic, ever-changing world one may seek refuge in annual traditions. One such tradition alights in the tranquil seaport town of Port Jefferson.
On an early December weekend for the past two decades, the picturesque streets of this town are dressed in evergreens and glittering lights to usher in the Charles Dickens Festival—now in its 21st year of delighting crowds with activities, events and Victorian-garbed carolers strolling about and occasionally stopping to read winter poetry.
The centerpiece of this festival and the holiday season is A Christmas Carol at Theatre Three—now in its 33rd year of immersing theatergoers in Charles Dickens’s magic.
Why do audiences flock yearly to this show? Maybe there’s comfort in depending on A Christmas Carol to offer a brilliantly performed production sure to fill hearts with the meaning of Christmas. What could be a better way to celebrate the holiday season?
“A Christmas Carol at Theatre Three is a nice event to build a tradition around—it’s something special to do with our family each year,” audience member Barbara Ihle says, adding, “The production is always well done and the space allows children to take everything in and feel close. Our son loves the effects with snow coming down and Marley rising out of the floor.”
The audience is well-versed in this tale of cantankerous miser Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Jeffery Sanzel) who spurns requests for donations and dismisses an invitation to attend the family Christmas dinner from his nephew Fred Holywell (Dylan Robert Poulos). “No to all requests! Keep Christmas in your own way; let me keep it in mine,” he scoffs.
Meanwhile, Scrooge’s beleaguered clerk Bob Cratchit (played with captivating vulnerability by Douglas J. Quattrock) must endure threats should he return even a minute late the morning after Christmas. Yet this gentle soul harbors no ill will for his disgruntled employer.
Scrooge closes shop on Christmas Eve and returns to his ascetic lodgings void of any company except for Mrs. Dilber the housekeeper (Ginger Dalton, entertaining with her brassiness and Cockney accent). Then he curls up, falls into a deep sleep and, as everyone knows, his nightmare begins with a terrifying clatter of chains.
The floor opens and Scrooge’s old business partner, Jacob Marley (hauntingly played by Steven Uihlein), rises from the dead to warn Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits meant to extricate him from an eternity weighed down by the ponderous chains he’s forged in life.
Enter the Ghost of Christmas Past (beguilingly played by Jessica Contino), who forces Scrooge to revisit his solitary childhood at Wellington House. He was banished by a father who blamed him for his mother’s death during childbirth. Then they see him as a young man, rejected by his beloved Belle (Emily Gates whose enthralling soprano soars) for his avarice. The final blow comes with the untimely death of Scrooge’s sister, Fan (Megan Bush), leaving Scrooge truly alone except for the jingle of coins on his worktable and in his pockets.
Act II opens with a flurry of throaty guffaws from the highly animated Christmas Present (Bobby Montaniz) who leads Scrooge to Cratchit’s home where they find sickly Tiny Tim (Frank Villani). When Scrooge asks, “Will Tiny Tim live?” Christmas Present points to a vacant seat at the table and a crutch in the corner signifying the child’s impending demise should costly medical assistance be denied.
Christmas Present mocks, “Will you decide what men will live and what men will die?”
Scrooge then turns toward a child confronting him and asks, “Who’s is that child?”
Christmas Present retorts, “She is want; the starving, needy souls always there clutching at your coat. Beware the children—on their brow is written the word want.”
In rush of fog, Christmas Present disappears, only to be replaced by The Ghost of Christmas Future (Dylan Robert Poulos) whose horrifying presence towers over Scrooge as he points a bony finger to a tombstone inscribed with the old miser’s name.
“Why show me all this if I am past all hope?” Scrooge screams.
Thunder cracks, darkness gives way; Scrooge stirs in his bed, pops up and rapturously announces, “The ghosts of past, present and future shall live within me.”
Church bells herald Christmas Day as Scrooge takes actions to mend his ways while the cast exuberantly intones, “Joy to the World.”
The final tableau features Scrooge downstage with Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim on a balcony spreading good will as snow flurries around them.
Maybe audiences still flock to A Christmas Carol at Theatre Three for the meticulous attention to detail from Randall Parsons’ scenic design, or Robert W. Henderson, Jr’s lighting and sound.
Or maybe locals depend on Sanzel’s Scrooge to lead an annual journey of emotions that ultimately reminds people to live with charity in their hearts.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol runs through December 30 at Theatre Three on Main Street in Port Jefferson. Call 631-928-9100 or visit theatrethree.com.
Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of children’s book, Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund, now adapted to a musical to be performed at South Shore Theatre Experience of Lindenhurst. See it on February 11, 12, 18,19, 22 and 25, 2017.