Commonweal's imaginative 'Scrooge' is no trial
LANESBORO — The setup of "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge" is somewhat preposterous: Scrooge is in court to justify his backsliding of the past year. All of his previous tormentors and victims show up in the courtroom as Scrooge attempts to prove they also haven't held up their side of the bargain — to keep Christmas all year.
So, yes, there is a leap of faith that has to be made as Mark Brown's play, which opened over the weekend at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, gets started. Get past that, though, and this holiday confection goes down easy. It's witty, fast-moving and wonderfully acted.
Ben Gorman, who portrayed Scrooge in the Commonweal's 2016 production of "A Christmas Carol," is back as Scrooge again, and leads the cast with his assured and steady creation of a man who has more talents than merely pinching pennies. In fact, Gorman's Scrooge is so skilled at trapping and taming witnesses that you begin to admire the guy.
Scrooge's opponent is Jeremy van Meter as defense attorney Solomon Rothschild. Van Meter's gaudy costume reflects his equally imaginative and colorful performance in the courtroom.
Eric Lee pulls double duty as a chirpy Bob Cratchit and a particularly devious ghost of Jacob Marley. Speaking of ghosts, Philip Muehe is a sight to behold as the gibberish-spewing Ghost of Christmas Future, clothed in black robes and balancing on stilts.
Also in the show are Abbie Cathcart and Elizabeth Dunn as several nicely drawn characters, Megan Hanks is the somewhat dim bulb of a bailiff, and David Hennessey is the exasperated judge trying to keep order in this crazy court.
Of special note in Brown's play, which is directed by Hal Cropp, is the way exact words and phrases from Charles Dickens' original "A Christmas Carol" keep appearing. As lines we know so well jump out at us in a new context, they take on different meanings; sometimes humorous, sometimes thought-provoking.
That must be gratifying to the Commonweal, which has always prided itself on sticking as close as possible to the original Dickens language in its productions of "A Christmas Carol." "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge" continues that tradition in often a delightful fashion.
This play is in no way on a par with the Dickens masterpiece. But in the skilled hands of the Commonweal's professionals, it is more than just another holiday bauble.