Trinity’s ‘Carol’ reminds us again what’s important

Left to right: Joe Wilson, Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge and David-Allen Sumner, Sofia Borges, Qiana Sumner, Joshua Pacheco, Samuel Wright, and Anai Nightingale as Ensemble in A Christmas Carol. Photo Mark Turek.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Forty years ago, the Trinity Repertory Company made the decision to perform an annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Someone, somewhere is still patting themselves on the back.

Through the decades, “Carol” has become a beloved holiday tradition for the theater, with a long extended run each year while introducing many to the joys of live theater for the first time.

The theater is also again reaching out to non-profits in the Providence area to involve them in the production and to help champion their causes

This year, Scrooge is being performed by the very accomplished and versatile actor Joe Wilson Jr., a three-time IRNE winner, and he moves seamlessly into the role for the second time.

The New Orleans native has found a true artistic home in Providence, and he is a warm and welcome presence as the miserly Scrooge, hurling invectives at Christmas and those celebrating it until he is visited by the first of what will be several spirits, that of his late partner Jacob Marley (Daniel Duque-Estrada).

Trinity Rep has long made it a point to have the pivotal role of Scrooge be played by both men and women, often by a person of color, and it always seems to work.

It should. After all, haven’t we all been Scrooge at some point in our lives? And haven’t we all benefited from redemption of some sort, a second chance to set things right?

The good news is that the timeless Dickens work is infinitely malleable. It responds well to tweaks, changes, and all sorts of adaptations, because the story at the heart of the piece is universal and indestructible.

Trinity Company members Stephen Thorne and Angela Brazil co-directed, and they have delivered to the doorstep of theater-goers a “Carol” that is fresh and funny, true to Dickens’ spirit and with enough surprises to satisfy the repeat – in many cases, make that annual – customer.

There are some very fun moments, including Orlando Hernandez as the Ghost of Christmas Present who makes a very special entrance – I won’t spoil it here – and proceeds to go tap-for-tap with Wilson as Scrooge in perhaps the first tap-dancing duel between Scrooge and a spirit in theatrical history.

There are some other delightful moments courtesy of some Trinity mainstays. Rebecca Gibel is a hoot as Scrooge’s ditsy housekeeper Mrs. Dilber, Rachel Warren is a warm, wonderful Mrs. Fezziwig, Janice Duclos shines as Old Jo, as does Anne Scurria as the Ghost of Christmas Past and a member of the notorious Royal Exchange.

Taavon Gamble as Young Scrooge and Jayne McLendon as Belle bring the heartbreak of Scrooge’s lost love to full life.

And, of course, at the end, a reborn Scrooge, complete with tears and howls of joy as he wakes up to a glorious Christmas morning and a chance to remake his life.

With each new production, Trinity designers also get a chance to completely rethink the piece. This year, the focus of the action is in the center of the theater, with theater-goers seated on all sides. Set designer Michael McGarty has made full use of the Chace Theatre’s aisles and entrances, with a backdrop for various scenes on one side of the theater and several other entry points allowing characters to enter and exit from areas all around the theater.

Toni Spadafora’s costumes are both colorful and period-perfect.

The warmth that emanates from Wilson’s performance as Scrooge – which he has dedicated to the people of Providence – stems at least partly from their support for him when he suffered a major injury during his first season in Providence, as his family struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Now he is paying it forward as he and Trinity both entertain us and remind us what the season is all about.

The Trinity Repertory Company production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by Angela Brazil and Stephen Thorne. Music Direction by Michael Rice with original music by Richard Cumming. Choreography by yon Tande. Set design by Michael McGarty. Costume design by Toni Spadafora. Lighting design by Dawn Chiang. Sound design by Peter Sasha Horovitz. At The Chace Theater through Dec. 31.

Center: Orlando Hernandez as Ghost of Christmas Present with the company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Mark Turek.