MOUNT DESERT — If bringing the community together for a big pre-Christmas dollop of the warm and fuzzies was the goal, the Acadia Community Theater production of “A Downeast Christmas Carol” could not have been a more perfect gift.
Adorable kids, moms, dads, grandpas and grandmas, friends and neighbors all came together to tell one of the most loved classic Christmas stories – this time with a fun, regional “Bert & I” sort of twist in this adaptation by Mark Puglisi.
Actually, it was a bit surprising to see how well the Dickens story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from a bah-humbugging old curmudgeon into a holly jolly philanthropist, travels.
I mean, really. Captain Ebby (Tony St. Denis)? a crusty old lobsterman out of Enny Harbor? Perfect!
Bob “Cratchy” Cratchit (an excellent Michael Fournier), Ebby’s long-suffering sternman aboard The Bottom Line? Of course!
Jake Marley (Mark Carignan) tangled up in fishing gear like a distressed minke whale? Genius!
Although Puglisi, who also directed the show, hove relatively close to the original plot, there were some fun departures, including an invasion of the Peanut’s gang and the kid with the Red Ryder BB gun from “A Christmas Story.” Perhaps the best of these additions was an all too brief interlude with Puglisi himself and the marvelous Brent Hutchins as a couple of old wharf rats sharing some mean-spirited gossip with voices as creaky as a pair of old wooden dories tied with wet rope.
Another highlight was a great little square dance interlude with Ruth Grierson, Fred Benson and Jim Vekasi providing accompaniment to a lively and well-executed reel at Fezziwig’s party.
If most of the acting, with a few exceptions, was strictly amateur, that was part of this production’s charm. It was more like a bunch of grown-ups and kids we all know, relating an engaging story rather than disappearing into another world. It was so friendly and familiar, the children in the audience crept closer and closer to the stage until they pretty much filled the front of the hall to better see and hear what was going on. Had they been bored or intimidated, they either would have fallen asleep or fidgeted in their seats. Not a single peep was heard from several babies in the audience.
As sweet as all this was, with a little practice on lines and timing and enhanced production values, this could become a real Christmas classic – a theatrical hit as well as a sentimental one.
The corner of the stage where Capt. Ebby moored his boat, for instance, was begging for more set dressing. Actually, the one truly convincing prop was the excellent gravestone Capt. Ebby visits with the spirit of Christmas future (Doug VanGorder) – who by the way was an intriguing cross between Lionel Barrymore in “Captains Courageous” and Darth Vader from “Star Wars.”
A little polishing of the script would be good too. At one point, the merry spirit of Christmas present (an ebullient Stephanie Clement) laughs gleefully as she tells Capt. Ebby that all the gifts the kids get on Christmas morning will be smashed to smithereens. Surely that can’t be right. And surely Mother Cratchit (Wendy Littlefield) would never tell her children that there probably wouldn’t be enough Christmas dinner to go around? That mother of five or six knows how to stretch a meal!
There also were some really clever changes that made the story more relevant for modern audiences, such as when Cratchit’s oldest son, Peter (Lysso Sanborn), announces he’s going to quit college to help pay for Tiny Tim’s medical expenses. And of course getting just about every kid in the village of Northeast Harbor to participate was another stroke of genius. The standout, of course, was adorable Jacob McKenna belting out the final line of the show “God bless us everyone!”
Two more performances are scheduled, both at the Pemetic School in Southwest Harbor, one on Friday, Dec.12, at 7 p.m. and one on Saturday, Dec.13, at 3 p.m.