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Sunday, December 08, 2019

Morella Spins a Spirited ‘Christmas Carol’ at Olney

Paul Morella

There is no shortage of Christmastime traditions: Santa Clause, gift-giving, Christmas trees, caroling, eggnog, wreaths, poinsettias, and parties, just to name a few. There is still another tradition: Paul Morella performing his one-man show, A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre Center. #hocoarts

Celebrating his 10th anniversary of staging this unique presentation at Olney, Mr. Morella, who adapted the Dickens classic, seems to always add a fresh layer to his performance. In this version there is more of a ghostly theme and a more in-depth exploration of the characters. #hocoarts

Any accomplished actor will tell you that playing a role is not simply memorizing lines from a script and following the play’s director. One needs to conduct research and delve into the character’s qualities and persona and for a couple of hours lose one’s own identity and virtually become that character. 

In a tour-de-force, multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee and Olney stage veteran Paul Morella does exactly that.  Except there is a major difference: he does not portray a singular character; he plays dozens of characters in this heartwarming, imaginative adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic novella A Christmas Carol.  And for good measure, Mr. Morella directs his own performance.

Mr. Morella’s hand in this one-man show stretches out from not only performing the myriad roles but is also the theater’s usher welcoming audience members with a warm smile and handshake.  Prior to the presentation Mr. Morella advises the audience that he is not to be seen as an actor performing this play but instead a “guide” to the story whereby the audience is urged to let their imagination run free. He is too modest, however, as Mr. Morella conducts an acting clinic and turns in a virtuoso performance as a storyteller that indeed provokes the audience to imagine.

Surrounded by an assortment of early Victorian furnishings on the cozy stage including a period desk, chairs, fireplace, Persian rugs; a scattering of clocks, books, candles. spectacles and the like, Mr. Morella spins the fabled yarn that centers on the miserly-turned-loveable Ebenezer Scrooge (Bah! Humbug!) who finds redemption and becomes an admirable chap at play’s end.

As the sole performer Mr. Morella recites Dickens’ prose as they were intended, and Dickens, at times, actually performed the novella by himself.  Therefore, along with the charming set that also displays a foggy vapor at various points in the story, there is a great deal of historical authenticity that enriches the experience. 

"Mr. Morella conducts an acting clinic and turns in a virtuoso performance as a storyteller..."

Adding to the genuineness, many of the characters’ good attributes as well as shortcomings in A Christmas Carol related in some manner to Dickens’ own life’s experiences that included struggling to make ends meet.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas Eve to Christmas Day evolution from when he began as a mean, arrogant and friendless soul to one that ended up as a caring, generous human being embodies the true meaning of the Christmas holiday spirit.

This extraordinary transformation in Scrooge’s personality was accomplished through the eerie appearance of the ghost of Scrooge’s late partner Jacob Marley followed by the nocturnal visits from three other ghosts: one representing Christmas Past, one from Christmas Present and one from Christmas Future.  These ghosts pointed out Scrooge’s failures, the effects of his actions, and the consequences that could occur in the future.

Besides narrating the story as Dickens, Mr. Morella deftly switches characters with amazing fluidity using all the acting tools in the toolbox.  He accomplishes this competently not with tedious wardrobe changes but with voice inflections, facial expressions, gestures and mannerisms unique to each character.  Mr. Morella is in constant motion on the stage as he relates the story.

At one moment he is Scrooge and then he seamlessly switches to either Bob Crachit, Tiny Tim, each of the three ghosts and a host of other characters including females and children.  When reverting back to Scrooge or another character, there is solid consistency.

Adding substantial texture to the play is Edward Moser’s excellent sound design that creates echoes when the ghosts speak, the ringing of church bells, folks laughing in the background, cats scratching on a door as well as other effects.  Sonya Dowhaluk’s superb lighting design contributes to the gothic atmosphere by employing light fades and keeping the stage illuminated at a subdued level (but not too low) to simulate candlelight. Patrick W. Lord is the Projection Designer, and Josiane M. Jones skillfully directs the overall production.

Mr. Morella’s ability to tell this classic story is captivating and is theatre at its best.  This would make a great pre-holiday gift or a stocking stuffer for anyone who loves theatre and appreciates the skills of a superb actor (and guide and usher).
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Running time: Two hours with an intermission.

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas runs through December 29 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. 

Performances are Thursday-Saturday evenings at 7:45 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm. There are additional performances on Wednesday, December 18 at 3:00 p.m. at 7:45 p.m., Monday, December 23 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., Tuesday, December 24 at 3:00 p.m., and Thursday, December 26 at 3:00 p.m. No performances on December 4 & 5, Wednesday, December 11 and Wednesday, December 25. No evening performance on Wednesday, December 26.

Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 301-924-2654 or visiting online .

Photos: Teresa Castracane Photography

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