Christmas has come early. At least it has at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP), in the form of 2021’s edition of “A Christmas Carol.” The audience met the production with all the enthusiasm of a child whose previous Christmas had been cancelled — considering the fact that last year’s show was performed only once for a near-empty theater and a camera, the reaction is understandable. From the Director’s Notes in the program to the curtain call, the production exudes the same enthusiasm of a long-awaited return to normal.
Omaha Community Playhouse’s 46th consecutive production of “A Christmas Carol” is directed by the legendary Susan Baer Collins. The play was adapted for the stage from the classic Charles Dickens story by Charles Jones, OCP director back in the olden days of 1975.
Between the popularity of the tale and its 45-year-long streak at the OCP, it’s unlikely that many Gateway readers will need an introduction to the story — however, theater-review conventions bow to no one, so here’s one anyway. It’s Christmas Eve in 19th century London. Miserly capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge (Jerry Longe), who hates everything and everyone (but especially Christmas) is preparing for a sound sleep after a long day of exploiting labor and collecting on high-interest loans, when he is suddenly visited by the ghost of his long-dead and similarly unpersonable partner Jacob Marley (Don Keelan-White). A warning from the specter cues three subsequent visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, respectively, and pushes Scrooge to self-reflection and a few new conclusions about the holiday and the value of celebrating it.
Adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” tend to exist on a scale that extends from “light-hearted” to “gothic.” While the black-and-white film that scarred me horribly as a child fits firmly into the latter category, OCP’s production is much more of a romp, centered around the humor in seeing one grumpy old man having one hell of a night, and more than a few renditions of classic Christmas carols. The particular brand of humor that I’ve come to expect from OCP lives on, carried in large part by the efforts of Jerry Longe, the production’s Scrooge for 16 years and counting.
For as upbeat a story as it tends to be, the production still has room for more than a few emotionally hitting moments. These come courtesy of (again) Jerry Longe, some clever moments of staging and, of course, the core of the great story by Charles Dickens. The comedy that pervades the play contributes to the emotional weight of particular moments by lulling the audience into laughter, before dropping them into moments with nothing to laugh at but everything to feel.
The technical aspects of the play start off strong — one scene in particular in the first act includes a very dynamic set, liberal use of a smoke machine and a whole host of delightful lighting tricks, just to name a few — but as the play moves along, these features appear less and less. It’s a relatively insignificant issue, as special effects have never been the main draw of “A Christmas Carol” and their absence as the play nears its end is noticeable only because they were so good from the start.
“A Christmas Carol” may not be the most intriguing offering from OCP this season, but it doesn’t have to be. After showing over 46 consecutive seasons and counting, OCP’s “A Christmas Carol” might just be the theatrical embodiment of the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“A Christmas Carol” will show at the Omaha Community Playhouse from Wednesday to Sunday, every week through Dec. 23, 2021. Tickets are currently available for purchase by phone at (402) 553-0800, online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or in person at the OCP Box Office.