Review by Marilyn Lester . . .
In December 1867, Mr. Charles Dickens came to New York for a series of readings of his masterwork, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, at Steinway Hall. Quite possibly Dickens made a side trip for a special reading at the home of Seabury Treadwell and his family on East 4th Street. This is where we encounter him now, in the elegant double parlor, warmly decked out for the kind of Christmas that Dickens more or less invented in his story.
But this Dickens is the amazing John Kevin Jones, who effortlessly takes on the persona of the author, and transforms with ease into the various characters of the time-honored tale. Here then is the story of miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who, visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, is warned that the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future will come to him in hopes that he’ll become a better man for it. Echoing the first lines of the book, “Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that,” Jones becomes a truly terrifying chain-rattling ghost, bellowing his warning with rasping breath and sepulchraly resonant voice. The characters that follow are many, and Jones tackles them all to perfection with varying vocalizations, body language and the magic of stagecraft.
As if imagination was not enough to enjoy Jones’ performance, A Christmas Carol’s provenance helps too. Since its publication in 1843 the book has never been out of print. The story has been adapted numerous times for the stage, film and television. Most probably any given audience member has enough images in mind to enhance Jones’ telling of the tale. But what is transcendent of those images is the actor’s agility; Jones exudes charm, inserts humor and otherwise nuances his hour-long performance with skill. Bob Crachit, Tiny Tim, nephew Fred, old Fezziwig and, of course, those spirits, among others, come alive through Jones, all wonderfully differentiated in the telling.
A Christmas Carol at the Merchant’s House is a co-production of that venue with the Summoners Ensemble Theatre, of which Jones is Executive Director. Along with Artistic Director, Dr. Rhonda Dodd, the two have adapted Dickens own reading script for this presentation. The setting is ideal, the intimate parlor, ornately intact with the Treadwell family furniture and possessions, is unique in its authenticity. The home is now a museum, and is the only nineteenth-century family dwelling in New York City preserved intact. It was built in 1832 and occupied by members of the Treadwell family through 1936, when George Chapman, a cousin of the family, founded it as a museum. And so, what a truly extraordinary opportunity has been given to soak in history while being entertained by the accomplished storyteller, Jones.
The enduring popularity of A Christmas Carol lies in Dickens’ skill in his own ability to write an entertaining book, while making significant observations about social justice. The story is an allegory, with characters and events imparting clear meaning. By the novel’s end, Dickens gives us hope that we’re all capable of doing better and carrying the loving spirit of Christmas forward all the year round. The collaboration of Summoners Ensemble Theatre with the glorious Merchant’s House Museum is perfection in reminding us all of our better natures in a most wonderful way.
A Christmas Carol at the Merchant’s House plays through January 1, 2022 and runs 60 minutes. Tickets to the live performance are limited to about 40 persons. Streaming performances also available. For tickets and more information, visit www.summonersensemble.org
Merchant’s House Museum is located at 29 East 4th Street, New York, NY