Set in the days of the Land Run, this adaptation of Charles Dickens' beloved novel succeeds in transporting the familiar tale of the redemption of infamous holiday-hater Ebenezer Scrooge from the world of London, England, to the recently settled Oklahoma Territory.
While the setting change works quite effectively, the best parts of the play are the ones taken most directly from Dickens. The material unique to this adaptation varies in quality from good "? like Scrooge's job description in the Oklahoma Territory "? to bad "? like the painful opening scene in which the meaning of the holidays is discussed using overwrought dialogue. (Speaking of which, who knew there were so many well-educated, unaccented folk among early state settlers?)
After that first problematic scene, the play comes to life when the curtain obscuring the back of the stage is pulled down, revealing the hustle and bustle of people walking through an Oklahoma town of a century ago, represented in a brilliant, multilevel set.
Regardless of the quality of the adaptation, there's one thing that has to be there for any production of "A Christmas Carol" to be a success: a great Scrooge. In longtime company member James Ong, Pollard has such a Scrooge. Full of bile and bluster, but always entertaining, Ong dances nimbly between the different stages of Scrooge's redemption.
Also turning in memorable performances are Lance Reese in the dual roles of the folksy John Kettle and the regal Ghost of Christmas Present; Timothy Stewart as the narrator, Dickens; Jake DeTommaso as the comical Solicitor; and, in one of the most effective and atmospheric scenes in the entire production, Pollard artistic director Jerome Stevenson makes a huge impact as the tortured spirit of Scrooge's deceased partner, Jacob Marley.
Visually, this "Carol" is quite impressive. With screens, trapdoors and rotating platforms, the fun and functional set goes through some dynamic transformations. The production also features some great light and sound design, both of which are showcased during the genuinely creepy Marley scene. The spirits all have strong visual entrances and exits, and have fantastic costumes unique to this adaptation, like the American Indian Goddess-cum-Glam-Rocker Ghost of Christmas Past.
I'm sure that after 21 successful years of producing "A Territorial Christmas Carol," Pollard could argue effectively that if ain't broke, don't fix it. But after just one viewing, I can't help but feel that a little polish could make the mostly good script by Stephen P. Scott a great one.
In the meantime, however, the charming performances and great stagecraft help to overcome the weaknesses of the writing and continue to make this Oklahoma theatrical institution one worth seeing.
A Territorial Christmas Carol stages at 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Dec. 23 at The Pollard Theatre, 120 W Harrison in Guthrie.