Actor Mark Coffin has a good story to tell, and the twinkle in his eye and sly smile on his face signal just how much he relishes sharing it. The story is, of course, Dickens’s familiar tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from (sorry, can’t resist) scrooge-iness to benevolence after being haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. ‘Tis the season for staging that story, and if you’re looking for a fresh reboot, Coffin’s one-man show – playing for one more week at Off the WALL in Carnegie – has you covered.
Coffin has pared Dickens’s novel down to ninety captivating minutes of deceptively simple yarnspinning. He slips between the narratorial voice of the author and the large cast of characters with fluidity and ease, using a different timbre and accent for each character – an effect reminiscent of listening to Jim Dale narrate the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series (which, in my humble opinion, is one of the great joys in life). Director Heidi Mueller Smith has given Coffin just enough to do to keep the stage picture active, but not so much that it detracts from his main business of bringing Dickens’s world vividly to life. Their co-adaptation, which revels at times in the baroque word choice and sentence structure of the Victorian era, doesn’t need much else to set it firmly in that world, and scenic designer Adrienne Fischer leaves most of the world building to our imagination. A backdrop that sketches out the gesture of a cityscape serves as a surface on and against which projection designer Jessie Sedon and lighting designer Madeleine Steineck throw images and color to establish both the workaday world of Scrooge’s pennypinching and the spooky aura of his life-altering haunted night; sound and music designer Ryan McMasters fleshes out the atmosphere with sounds of knocks, rattling chains, strange creaks and groans, and other cues that suggest the creepy goings-on of the spirit world.
Coffin’s performance is confident and winsome, and even if you think you alreadly know this story from other stage or film adaptations, you may find there are some surprises in details pulled from the novel. Moreover, Coffin’s one-man performance lends the tale a comforting bedtime-story aspect that perfectly suits its fable-like ending. I usually find Scrooge’s transformation too miraculous to be believed, but here – framed as it is as a tale from a world similar to, but not quite exactly like, our own – I was far more ready to indulge in the wishful thinking that a moral awakening on the part of our present-day Scrooges might also be in the realm of possibility.