Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge
Taproot Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes

Also see David's reviews of Peter and the Starcatcher and Disney's The Little Mermaid


Larry Albert and Steve Manning
Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Marley was dead ... and God bless us everyone. But what if many of Charles Dickens' classic principal A Christmas Carol characters came back a year later to try an apparently backsliding Ebenezer Scrooge in a court of law? To this I would answer, why not? But, unfortunately, the playwright of The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, Mark Brown, didn't write anything that justifies his premise of pulling a lot of what is all too familiar to us in the original into a trial by jury format one year afterwards. The Taproot Theatre cast and director Scott Nolte struggle mightily and to good effect to bring life and laughter to the piece, leaving audiences with a satisfying production of an unsatisfying, missed opportunity of a play.

The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge picks up a year after the disagreeable Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge has changed his ways due to the visitation of three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. After his transformation, Mr. Scrooge contends that he was kidnapped and tricked into being a changed man for the year following Christmas. As a result, he draws up a whole list of criminal charges: breaking and entering, kidnapping, attempted murder, and theft. He charges the ghosts as well as the other characters in the story. Mr. Scrooge is the prosecuting attorney in the trial, opposite the compassionate Jewish defense attorney, Solomon Rothschild, who represents all of the accused. In an effort to show the absurdity of the trial, Rothschild brings all of his clients and Scrooge to the witness stand where each witness contributes his or her account of the story, which is in some way contradicted by Mr. Scrooge. There are also characters who cause Mr. Scrooge's confidence to temporarily disappear. When Scrooge's old fiancée Belle takes the stand, she forces him to face mistakes of his past where he chose money over happiness. After all the testimonies are given, Judge Pearson hands down a rather surprising verdict. But crafty Scrooge has the last word in the matter.

Brown's play has several laughs and gives several actors in its small cast a chance to take on several roles apiece. But there is too much lifting from the original, which has been done to death by everyone who ever wanted to play Scrooge, from Alistair Sims to George C. Scott to a likewise singing Mr. Magoo, to a pantheon of fine Seattle veteran actors who have taken on the role here at ACT Theatre over the years. Why not write Another Christmas Carol, showing a much mellowed Scrooge dealing with changes for the bad to his all his kith and kin, and the spirits are all back to blame him? That ain't what Mr. Brown wrote, so what does that leave us with at Taproot? Thanks to sprightly direction by Nolte, and a solid cast that knows how to weave literary straw into gold, a solid production.

Nolan Palmer, old pro that he is, has the confidence to underplay and humanize Scrooge a bit, despite the odd assertions he is making about the defendants. Robert Gallaher is a suitably sanguine Bob Cratchit and a peeved Ghost of Marley. Bill Johns brings a great deal of low-key humor to his role as defense attorney Solomon Rothschild. Steve Manning brings crankiness and the ability to go from a slow burn to a heated outburst as Judge Pearson. Faith Bennett Russell rather overplays her Mrs. Cratchit, and has some curious British dialect issues with her Mrs. Dilber, but raises the laughter level considerably as the Indian Lady Translator who assists the mute Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Daniel Stoltenberg practically bursts with good cheer as Scrooge's nephew Fred and boasts the biggest Cinemascope smile since Gene Kelly, and he, uh, stands tall as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Anastasia Higham brings a youthful winsomeness but scant variety to The Ghost of Christmas Past, Ebenezer's doomed sister Fan, and former fiancée Belle. Best of all, though, is longtime Seattle character man Larry Albert as Judge Pearson's overly boisterous and enthused bailiff. He has a great running gag about trying to usher in a constantly wandering defendant, namely the Ghost of Christmas Present, and he and Manning play off of one another like an old-time vaudeville team.

Mark Lund's courtroom setting is well designed for the intimate Taproot Space. Kent Cubbage's lighting design is satisfactory, and Sarah Burch Gordon's costumes fit the era efficiently enough. The audience at the performance I attended happily gulped down the show like a Christmas feast. I just wish the cast had gotten a better written and conceived play in their stockings for the season.

The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge plays on Taproot Theatre's Jewell Mainstage at 204 N. 85th Street through December 30, 2016. Single tickets are available through the Taproot Theatre Box Office at 206-781-9707 and online at www.taproottheatre.org. Group tickets are available for groups of eight or more at 206-781-9708 or by visiting www.taproottheatre.org.


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