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Nov 27, 2017 5:15 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Theater Review: 'A Christmas Carol' Presented As Live Radio Play In Southampton Is Fun And Sweet

Christopher DiSunno, Richard Gardini, Dan Becker and Joey Giovingo in
Nov 28, 2017 9:50 AM

Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” as interpreted by the playwright Joe Landry remains an old-fashioned Hallmark card with the original morality tale and uplifting sugar surge at the end intact.

And who would want it any other way? That’s the whole point of the ever-popular yuletide story in which the miserly businessman Scrooge undergoes a transformation—with the help of ghosts who scare the bejesus out of him—and who ultimately embodies the generous spirit of the season.

Under Michael Disher’s taut direction, Mr. Landry’s 2015 “live radio play” of the 19th-century novella is given a sweet and fun run at Southampton Cultural Center. This version is set in the 1940s with actors in period street dress telling the story as a breezy broadcast that runs an hour (including two commercials).

As such, the production allows for the over-emoting of the old radio shows a few of us may remember, and the marvelous sound effects Dennis Milone devised that went with them. The effervescent cast of nine take the parts of something like 40 characters, and that’s not counting the 1940s characters the actors play.

Noteworthy are Daniel Becker as Scrooge, and Christopher Disunno, whose wonderful bass voice brings Scrooge’s dead business partner, Marley, to “life” as his ghost. Joey Giovingo’s amusing heavy breathing enlivens the Ghost of Christmas Future. Others in the cast are Richard Gardini, Barbara Jo Howard, Deb Rothaug, Ken Rowland, Josephine Wallace and Gerri Wilson.

Although the action on the stage is fun to watch, I shut my eyes for a few moments to experience the lively production as a radio broadcast. I can’t say I would have done it throughout, but the story itself gained depth and meaning that way.

One wished that the audience had been filled with hedge funders and other assorted 1-percenters who skimp on wages and benefits while they reap millions. Certainly their laser-like vision on dollar signs affects the poor Bob Cratchits mopping their floors.

Perhaps a visit to a homeless shelter might loosen their pockets. Such a visit to a London school for destitute children, where they were half-starved and poorly clothed, is said to have inspired Dickens, for he wrote “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas,” as it was originally called, soon after one.

Undoubtedly because this is a story of combining riches and greed, poverty and good folk, dire apparitions and joyful redemption is why it has been in print continuously since its original publication just before Christmas 1843. In fact, the first printing sold out in six days, and by the end of the next year, there had been 13 editions. (An original signed copy today is available for $11,500.) By 1849, Dickens began doing readings of the story himself, and they were so popular he continued to do so until the year he died more than two decades later.

But modern-day Mr. Landry doesn’t let you go too far down that road of redemption before being satirically playful: two “commercials” are interspersed and they are laugh-out loud funny as they go on and on and on … regaling the merits of 20-pound Olde London Extra Fancy Fruitcake for Christmas and Phipp’s Department Store where you can buy a doll with a soul and a RCA Victor Wide Screen TV. (To those who wonder, yes there were TVs in the late ’40s. As for “wide-screen”? Not so much.)

Yes, “A Christmas Carol” is saccharine at the end, but that’s the point. Salvation is ours if we want it. Like Scrooge we simply have to act on that desire. This new production of an old story is a wonderful, joyful, playful hour for everyone past the age of reason.

“A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play,” presented by Center Stage, will have its final performances at the Southampton Cultural Center in Southampton Village on Thursday, November 30, at 7 p.m., Friday, December 1, at 7 p.m., Saturday, December 2, at 2, 5 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 3, at 2 and 5 p.m. For tickets, at $25 for general admission or $15 for students, visit scc-arts.org.

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