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A Dickens of a Carol

By Kimberley Lynne

UP ALL NIGHT: James Kinstle embodies the author in a Dickens of a tale.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 12/15/2004

A Dickens of a Carol

At St. Mary’s Outreach Center through Dec. 19

For the second year in a row, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival presents a smart and sophisticated holiday production that transcends the season’s usual sentimental and unchallenging fare. In A Dickens of A Carol, writer Kimberley Lynne expertly juxtaposes Charles Dickens’ life with one of his most well-known works, A Christmas Carol, imagining how his biography might have influenced the piece—and how the piece may have influenced his biography. It’s a whip-smart production that puts the Dickens back in the holiday classic by focusing on his words—an aspect that has been all but lost in this age of abridged, kid-friendly romps and musical versions complete with dancing Crachits. Lynne uses excerpts from both the play and Dickens’ own letters to paint a complex portrait of a man that trusted the audience to put the pieces together instead of spoon-feeding it an easy message.

Artistic director James Kinstle once again offers a bravura performance in the one-man show, inhabiting not just Dickens but also the characters from A Carol and members of Dickens’ family. Kinstle transforms himself vocally and physically from character to character, making sure that the audience can keep track of the large ensemble he portrays. Excellent lighting design by Todd Mion lends a hand, offering different schemes for different characters that not only distinguish but actually provide clues to each character’s nature.

While A Dickens of Carol continues to be one of the most intriguing holiday productions around, in its sophomore effort there are a few new missteps. Kinstle’s performance is bigger now, losing some of the quietly chilling moments that made last year’s production so deeply affecting. But the larger problem comes not from the writing or acting, but from the musical accompaniment. The performance takes place in BSF’s home at St. Mary’s, a beautiful venue which comes complete with a working organ. And while the organ music in general works nicely as a soundtrack for the production, this year director Kathy Feininger took it a step too far, adding melodramatic dirges to many of the play’s gravest moments. The decision backfires, taking away from the gravity of the piece rather than highlighting it.

Still, in a season that has become synonymous with crocheted sentiment, A Dickens of A Carol offers a holiday show that allows its audience to think for itself, while reminding it of the artistic genius of the man behind “God bless us, everyone.”

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