Conjuring up the True Spirits of Christmas in a 1940s Radio Studio

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Richard Gardini and Gerri Wilson in “A Christmas Carol.” Dane Dupuis photo
Richard Gardini and Gerri Wilson in “A Christmas Carol.” Dane Dupuis photo

By Annette Hinkle

In recent years, the Thanksgiving holiday has transformed from one that allows us to take stock of all that is good in our lives to one that is all about stocking up. Before the turkey is even digested anxious shoppers head out to flood malls and be the first in line when Black Friday deals begin at a minute past midnight.

Which is why we should be thankful that on this past day after Thanksgiving, the fine folks of Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center decided to make Black Friday opening night for staging a true holiday classic that reminds us all of what the real spirit of Christmas is all about — all three of them, actually.

Michael Disher directs a tight knit cast in “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” which has been adapted for the stage by Joe Landry. In this version of the classic tale, Landry has taken Dicken’s Victorian London and set it smack dab in the middle of a 1940s radio studio. Presented as if it were a live radio broadcast, the tale is told through a handful of actors portraying well-known on-air personalities who, in turn, are portraying a multitude of characters in the play. To bring the production to life, one actor acts as a Foley artist on stage left, working from a table of sound effects including ringing bells, slamming doors, foot steps and a sheet of metal to recreate howling wind.

A particularly nice touch is the two pauses in the story as the actors break character to assume the role of pitchmen and women (it is the shopping season, after all) to offer up vintage radio commercials for extra fancy fruitcake and a scary baby doll.

It’s a uniquely nostalgic way to present a timeless tale that, unfortunately, due to over-familiarity can become worn and tiresome given the number of stage and screen renditions there have been over the years.

But this treatment is truly enchanting and the simplicity of its staging may surprise the Scrooges among us who think that when it comes to “A Christmas Carol” we’ve seen it all. In fact, the production is quite moving. While screen versions go to great lengths to recreate the images of old Marley in Scrooge’s door knocker or the ghost of Christmas yet to come in its ominous black cape, in truth, there’s something profound about the absence of the visuals that makes the story all the more powerful. Our own imaginations are left to fill in the visual details of the soulless void of a face beneath the cape of the spirit, and the hollow rasping breath that actor Joey Giovingo offers as the Ghost of Christmas Future by amplifying his voice through a simple old fashioned phonograph horn. It imparts terror in a way that no flashy special effect can.

Christopher DiSunno, Deb Rothaug, Barbara-Jo Howard and Dan Becker in “A Christmas Carol.” Dane Dupuis photo

In this digital age, we’ve forgotten what an active imagination can do when presented with just a few well considered words. This version of “A Christmas Carol” is like hearing Charles Dickens anew again, but instead of gathering around the fire, this time we’re treated to a communal experience in the intimate confines of a radio studio.

All the cast does a fine job, but kudos especially goes to Daniel Becker who does the heavy lifting as Scrooge. His commitment to the character and his vocal intonations keep the audience enthralled, even if we know exactly what — or rather, whom — is coming next.

So act now! This production of “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” is short (running just two weekends) — but deliciously sweet … and that’s a lot more than we can say about fruitcake.

Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center presents “A Christmas Carol, A Live Radio Play” through Sunday, December 3. The cast includes Daniel Becker, Christopher Disunno, Richard Gardini, Joey Giovingo, Barbara Jo Howard, Deb Rothaug, Ken Rowland, Josephine Wallace and Gerri Wilson. Remaining performances are Thursday and Friday, November 30 and December 1 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, December 2 at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, December 3 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. The Southampton Cultural Center is located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton Village. Tickets are $25 ($15 students). A $65 dinner theater package is available at Le Chef for all shows Thursday through Saturday, and a $48 brunch theater package is available at Fellingham’s on Sunday. Both restaurants are located in Southampton Village. For tickets, call (631) 287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.

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