Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Christmas Carol, told by Bernadette Nason at the Larry L. King stage, Austin Playhouse, December 9 - 21

Bernadette Nason (photo: Austin Playhouse)

Austin Playhouse provides an atmospheric little set for Bernadette Nason's telling of A Christmas Carol, and she's in costume when she enters primly from the single door at upstage right. Nason smiles an acknowledgment of us as she hangs up coat and scarf, then turns to address us.

From that point the story takes over, for Bernadette delivers Dickens' quick-moving, vivid text with crisp assurance and deft, economical mime. No exaggerations or mugging here; a shift of the shoulders, a roughening of the voice, a glint in the eye and she creates Ebenezer Scrooge in our minds, not in pantomime on the stage. Hers is the opposite of a bravado performance. She invites us into the fable, sketches the characters, and articulates the text with such precision and relish that we realize for the first time that Dickens has created a prose poem.

Yes, it's a morality play, and a powerful one. One may question the enthusiasm of those who propose that this short creation, which runs barely an hour in Nason's re-telling, gave shape to the English and eventually to the American celebration of the holiday, with gifts and roast meats and hearty family gathering. After all, the bleak mid-winter has been since pagan times a period for huddling together and sharing, and early church fathers had good reason to set the Christmas story at that season of the year.

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