In her director’s notes for Woodford Theatre’s “An Appalachian Christmas Carol,” Trish Clark admits that she was never a big fan of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” citing a childhood viewing of the old black-and-white film starring Alastair Sim that her young self deemed “dingy and dark in the most off-putting way.”
Likewise, I will admit I was not very excited to see “An Appalachian Christmas Carol,” not because I find Dickens’ classic tale “creepy,” as a young Clark did, but because as a native of the Appalachian region, I am weary and suspicious of Appalachian adaptations of classics in general. They are hard to get right and easy to get wrong, and I braced myself for what I was sure would be a decent sendup of Dickens with some quilts and overwrought accents.
Lucky for Central Kentucky audiences, Clark and I were both wrong. Very.
Clark, who also is Woodford Theatre’s artistic director and selects the plays that are featured each season, was won over by playwright Merri Biechler’s bright, unpretentious, heartfelt, cleverly woven tale that brings fresh artistic truths to the well-known tale.
Set in a 1907 coal camp, Biechler’s script has Scrooge (Adam Luckey) as the miserly owner of a coal company who greedily betrayed his mountain roots and the community that raised him. In a town and a culture where neighborliness and clan-like protection of one’s kin and community is fiercely embedded as both a virtue and a survival strategy, Scrooge’s greed looks all the more vile and profane by comparison.
Perhaps that is what is most impressive about Biechler’s script: It evokes the region’s cultural riches in a stirringly authentic way. What’s more, the Dickensian elements blend seamlessly with Biechler’s reimagining of the setting and its inhabitants. The pairing works so well that I just might prefer the Appalachian version of the story.
Clark’s keen and sensitive direction of a rock-solid cast of some of the area’s finest talent elevates Biechler’s language and scenes to soul-stirring effect.
Luckey brings a troubled gravitas to his role as Scrooge; as he journeys through Christmas past, present, and future, he portrays his guilt and regret with increasing horror, inviting us to realize that it is he who is the poorest of anyone in the town, until his own spirit is enriched by returning to the fold he left so long ago. Other tour de force performances include Steve Broderson as Fezziwig, the former coal company owner who valued and respected his workers. Jonathan Watson, as Marley’s Ghost, gives a bone-rattling performance in a thrillingly choreographed scene with Luckey, the ghoulishness of which is heightened by Clifton Grimm’s otherworldly lighting effects.
Traditional musical numbers and square dance elements weave elegantly throughout the play, with a small group of instrumentalists backing some of the show’s most poignant scenes. Even the audience gets in on the merriment at times, singing in unison both before and after the show. With opening performance by the Local Honeys and photo ops with Santa in the lobby, the show is more than a show, but a jolly event of determined merriment, although expect to shed a tear or two during the more harrowing scenes of Scrooge’s transformation, including during the hypothetical burial of Tiny Tim. Unfortunately, the production is sold out for it’s remaining performances. But if you have a ticket, look forward to a heavy dose of Christmas spirit in this heart-blessing tale of unlikely redemption.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
‘An Appalachian Christmas Carol’
What: The Woodford Theatre’s production of Merri Biechler’s play based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 14-16; 2 p.m. Dec. 17
Where: Falling Strings Arts & Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Road, Versailles
Tickets: Sold out for the remainder of the run