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'Carol' still superb in silver season

December 10, 2004

Tom Titus

To those certainties of death and taxes must now be added a third --

the emergence of an ever-superior staging of Charles Dickens' classic

"A Christmas Carol" each December at South Coast Repertory.

In some respects, it's the same production that first was unveiled

a quarter of a century ago, in 1980, but in others -- primarily

technical acumen and ensemble excellence -- it's a new show that gets

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newer every year, even as its director and central character remain

unchanged.

For this silver-anniversary show, director John-David Keller has

added the usual subtle embellishments -- more interaction among the

Londoners on the street and the amplification of the Cratchit kids'

characters. But the biggest impression is auditory, not visual -- the

state-of-the-art sound design of Drew Dalzell, expanding on Garth

Hemphill's original effects, which envelop the audience in crisp and

commanding clarity.

The centerpiece of this and every production of "A Christmas

Carol" since South Coast Repertory scribe Jerry Patch adapted

Dickens' morality tale is the superlative performance of Hal Landon

Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge -- a miser's miser who believes everyone who

celebrates the yuletide holiday should be "boiled in his own pudding

with a stake of holly through his heart." This attitude, as every

grade school student knows, is about to change.

Scrooge's conversion by a trio of specters and the ominous ghost

of his long-dead partner Jacob Marley is the crux of "A Christmas

Carol," and these otherworldly gentlemen carry out their assignments

with aplomb. Particularly effective this year is Don Took, chained

and domineering as Marley's tortured spirit. Took also doubles as the

ghost of Christmas future -- and this time, his new entrance in that

guise is as chilling as his familiar through-the-door burst in the

Marley character.

Richard Doyle is a smooth, almost genteel specter as the spirit of

Christmas past, guiding Scrooge through his unhappy childhood and a

heartbreak in his teen years that turned his visions to dollar signs.

Timothy Landfield revels in his ghost of Christmas present, turning

his character 180 degrees shortly before his departure to leave a

moral imprint on Scrooge's heart.

Director Keller appears in his regular solicitor assignment with

Martha McFarland, but also joins McFarland as Scrooge's early

employer Fezziwig, replacing the longtime occupant of that role, Art

Koustik, who's still aboard as the garrulous street merchant, with

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