Review: Review: North Coast Rep’s alternative ‘Christmas Carol’ has a sweet surprise

James Newcomb  in North Coast Rep's "A Christmas Carol: As told by one man to whom it matters.”
James Newcomb stars in North Coast Rep’s “A Christmas Carol: As told by one man to whom it matters.”
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

The world premiere streamed production takes a fresh look at Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”


In North Coast Repertory Theatre’s new take on “A Christmas Carol,” a drop of human kindness can create ripples in the most unexpected ways.

On Dec. 9, the Solana Beach theater launched a streaming production of the Charles Dickens’ holiday classic with a new adaptation by playwright Zander Michaelson, titled “A Christmas Carol: As told by one man to whom it matters.”

Set in the 1880s — some 40 years after Ebenezer Scrooge underwent an overnight transformation from miser to philanthropist — Michaelson’s world premiere “Carol” script has an anonymous narrator who knows firsthand the importance of Scrooge’s wake-up call. To say too much more about the “one man to whom it matters” would spoil the surprise.

Dressed in festive Victorian attire on a Christmas tree-bedecked stage, actor James Newcomb plays the narrator and more than a dozen other characters in the swiftly paced 76-minute filmed play. Director David Ellenstein keeps the production simple, with no costume or set changes, but the film is enhanced with some digital fog and shadow effects that mostly enhance the story, though are sometimes too abrupt. A few segments featuring characters who died long ago are presented in black and white.

Newcomb is an affable and engaging storyteller who credibly moves between characters who are young and old, men and women, children and ghosts. Some of the best characters he creates are the ghost of Jacob Marley and the bedsheet thief Mrs. Dilber. A few times I did have a hard time figuring out who was speaking because the character voices he employed for Scrooge and his nephew Fred were too similar.

The script touches on all the key scenes in Dickens’ 1843 novella, though many marginal characters are cut and fortunately it doesn’t linger on the book’s most repetitive scenes. Periodically the narrator circles back to his own life, mentioning his wife Giselle and the roasted chestnuts he adores. But he doesn’t drop any hints of his identity until the reveal at the very end. I thought I had him figured out but was wrong and appreciated the heart-warming two-part twist at the end.

The play features scenery by Marty Burnett and cinematography by Aaron Rumley. For traditional “Carol” fans, everything about the original story is still there. But the wise narrator adds a thoughtful perspective on the book’s now especially timely message, with the words: “In this world of uncertainty and despair, we all need the spirit of Christmas in our hearts.”

North Coast Repertory Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol: As told by one man to whom it matters”

Playing: Through Dec. 31

Tickets: $35 for a 48-hour rental


— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune