PLEASANT GROVE — A Christmas Carol seems capable of handling an infinite number of adaptations. Stage, television, film, and the written page have all been media for retellings of Charles Dickens‘s classic tale of redemption at the holiday season. In Utah, some of the biggest theatre companies in the state stage an adaptation of A Christmas Carol every year, with flashy special effects and large casts. At the other extreme, though, is a one-man production of A Christmas Carol touring libraries in Utah County. Though simple in its nature, this production still conveys a full measure of Christmas cheer.
Bryan Johnson, a local actor with credits at both Hales, the SCERA, and many other local companies, conceived this production. He also serves as the show’s only actor, designer of the set and costume, and co-director (with his wife, Shaylia Johnson). The story is a good vehicle for Johnson, showcasing his mastery of accents and his ability to embody characters. Johnson’s greatest strength is in his voice, which he uses to convincingly differentiate the many characters in the story. Johnson also takes advantages of the emotional ups and downs that the characters experience in the story to vary his performance, which nicely prevents the evening from becoming stagnant (a common problem with one-man or one-woman shows).
The script is based on the readings of A Christmas Carol that Charles Dickens would perform during his lifetime, with some modifications that Johnson made. This puts the show in the storytelling tradition more than a theatrical one. He breaks the fourth wall from time to time, and he focuses on using the language to paint a picture in the audience’s mind. It works, though, because the story is so familiar and Johnson is an engaging narrator who loves the tale he tells. Another strategy that pulls the audience into the performance occurs when Johnson talks to specific audience members as if they are characters in the story.
Johnson’s costume is a nice period ensemble, with his vest, cravat (tied in a bow), and pants all in different patterns and completed with a black top hat and purple overcoat. It sets the narrator squarely in the early Victorian period. The set is simple: a faux fireplace, chair, coatrack, and a few other items, including a pitcher of water and glass that was smartly incorporated into the story. The simplicity of the visuals for the show focuses attention on Johnson and ensures that nothing distracts from the message of A Christmas Carol.
It is fitting that this adaptation of A Christmas Carol — based so firmly in the original book — is touring local libraries. But a smart theatre company would invite Johnson to perform his show in their building on evenings when the theater is otherwise dark. The performance is already strong, and some sound effects and stage lighting would enhance it further.
At approximately an hour long, this one-man version of A Christmas Carol is a quick dose of the Christmas spirit (though some of the younger children in the audience were struggling towards the end, including my 8-year-old). Johnson tells the story in a lovely manner, and the one-man version sets this production of A Christmas Carol apart from the many others available to Utahns right now. Admission is free, and I hope that audience members enjoy this lovely Christmas gift from a talented performer.