By John Quinn
Late last month, when The Great Taskmaster sent his ink-stained wretches the schedule of November shows, one title stood out. “Ebenezer!” Did Michigan playwright Joseph Zettelmaier DARE write a sequel to “A Christmas Carol,” arguably the greatest short story in the English language? How successful can a sequel be – OK, besides “The Godfather II?” Your agitated critic jumped the gun. This elegant little Yuletide present from Tipping Point Theatre is not a sequel in the traditional sense. Rather than merely revisit Charles Dickens’s theme – the soul-healing power available in identification with one’s common humanity – Zettelmaier proceeds to the next logical step: Redemption is “the gift that keeps on giving.”
It’s Christmas Eve, 15 years to the day that Ebenezer Scrooge experienced the supernatural visions that transformed his life. He’s still the jolly old soul that we left at the end of “A Christmas Carol,” but, while now on a first name basis with his fellow man, Ebenezer is hearty but not hale. Hospitalized, at peace with his mortality, he’s a handful for his long-suffering nurse. But Alice Poole is more than just a nurse. Her personal salvation began with a random act of kindness, not by Ebenezer, but by the all-grown-up Timothy Cratchit. As chimes mark the approach of midnight, Ebenezer is expecting visitors – he’s waiting for his mentors, the Christmas Ghosts. Instead, his visitor is the deeply troubled Timothy – never “Tim” or “Tiny” – late of Her Majesty’s Navy. Profoundly shocked by his experiences in the war-ravaged American Confederacy, Timothy has abandoned hope in the innate goodness of mankind. Ebenezer’s last great challenge, with Alice’s assistance, is the restoration of his “nephew’s” core beliefs.
The script of “Ebenezer” is full of some deep, philosophical reflection, but Zettelmaier knows how to employ it to further his storytelling. His metaphor of one candle lighting a chain of candles until they drown out the dark is profoundly moving.
Director Julia Glander also knows how tell a tale. The production is conceptual rather than realistic: Set and prop designer Stephen Carpenter provides a spare, clean scene on a thrust stage that hides a surprise or two. Couple it with Joel Klain’s flexible, bright-to-eerie lighting and Corey Globke’s period costumes and, literally, the stage is set.
But Glander’s great success is how well she renders the characters, and she has three top-tier artists at hand.
In the title role, Hugh Maguire exudes the giddy good humor that marked the New Scrooge of the Dickens classic, but instills a childlike trust in his character’s confrontation with impending death. Alysia Kolascz as Alice and Peter Prouty as Timothy play their younger selves in flashback; their carefully nuanced contrasts confirm the theme that change is possible. They share a spoiler-tempting transformation that demonstrates the wonders of character definition using merely voice and gesture.
As is referenced in “Ebenezer,” his name will be known 300 years in the future. “A Christmas Carol” is revived annually because of its profound message of hope. How nice there’s a companion piece to look forward to in the holiday season. This sparkling ornament on the Tree of Christmas Tales might just change the Season of Getting back to the Season of Giving. Mr. S would remind you, “It doesn’t change until you choose to change it!” Light a candle!
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E. Cady St., Northville. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Dec. 29, with matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; a special matinee performance has been added at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27. A special New Year’s Eve performance begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 31. 1 hour, 15 minutes; no intermission. $29-32; $75 on New Year’s Eve. 248-347-0003. http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com