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THEATER REVIEW 'A CHRISTMAS CAROL' : Dickens Delight : It is apparent from the start that this is an exciting version of the classic tale.

December 20, 1990|ANN VAN DER VEER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The eerie lights go up, the spooky stage smoke clears and what looks like a seven-foot-tall ghost of Marley appears wearing stunning fluorescent ghoul makeup and cobwebby grave clothes. It's clear that this "Christmas Carol" is going to be an exciting blend of spectacle, special effects and surprises.

Local director Tim Glasby has mounted an ambitious version of the Charles Dickens classic in the intimate 100-seat Center Stage Theater. The 21-member cast, who play 40 characters, is headed by Equity actors John Fink as Marley and Richard Stretchberry as Ebenezer Scrooge.

The massive set, based on four rotating wagons, features a curved bridge large enough to hold a phalanx of carolers in Victorian dress who sing between scenes. We sympathize with the poor Cratchit family, root for Tiny Tim and follow the metamorphosis of that archetypal miser Scrooge, who stomps and humbugs his way through rapidly shifting scenes--from Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

The first scenes reveal that Ebenezer was a solitary, neglected child who grew up to be a lonely, isolated man, insulated from all human feeling. When Christmas Future reveals his unmourned death, Scrooge suffers profound anguish over his miserly years and feels a genuine need to make something of what is left of his life.

The test of an actor is here. Scrooge must change in one moment from curmudgeon to jovial gift-bringer. Stretchberry is up to it. He builds the change slowly with superb control. When we finally see him hopping and singing with joy on Christmas morning, we can believe this. And we believe that Scrooge is a symbol of Everyman and that every man harbors a streak of Scrooge.

This is a good holiday show for the whole family. The children will love the special effects. One little girl at the performance I attended turned to her friend afterward and said, "It was perfect."

Proceeds from the show benefit the Youth Incentive Project of Santa Barbara County.

WHERE AND WHEN

"A Christmas Carol, Scrooge and Marley," adapted from the Charles Dickens original by Israel Horovitz, at the Center Stage Theater, 721 De la Vina St., on the second level of the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in downtown Santa Barbara. Plays at 8 p.m. today through Sunday. Matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets $14, $12 children and seniors. Call 963-0408.

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