Excellent puppetry boosts Zoot Theatre Company’s production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the Dayton Art Institute.
As the familiar, redemptive Christmas Eve journey of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge transpires, adapted and helmed by Aaron Vega, it’s difficult not to be amazed by puppet designer D. Tristan Cupp’s artistry. Every marvelously detailed creation brims with personality from Ebenezer’s beak-like nose and thin frame to an adorably diminutive youngster with a penchant for caroling. Most eye-catching is his clever reimagining of the Ghost of Christmas Past (recounting Ebenezer’s history in the form of a film projector) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (a humorous copper conception). Due to the slight monotony of Vega’s narrative-driven adaptation, which emotionally resonates but could have been better paced without an intermission, Cupp’s contributions, which also include fine illustrations, are vital to selling the story in a fresh, unexpected fashion.
Still, Vega sprinkles the proceedings with inspired moments including the wonderful reveal of Ebenezer’s late partner Jacob Marley (expertly lit by John Rensel) and the spooky use of videography for the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. His decision to place the actors in shadow late in Act Two is a notable misstep (the actors are occasionally unintelligible which slows the action), but his staging is atmospheric, fluid and playful nonetheless.
Exhibiting great versatility as puppeteers, the compatible cast, adopting decent British accents and nicely costumed with a Victorian sensibility by Shirley P. Wasser, features the welcomed return of Wright State University theater graduates Ryan James Imhoff and JJ Parkey along with Heather Atkinson, Lizzy Miller and J. Gary Thompson. The tall, striking Imhoff is a terrifically conflicted Young Ebenezer and an absolutely earthy delight as the boozy Ghost of Christmas Present. Parkey, bubbly and expressive as ever, is a funny, genial and warm Bob Cratchit as well as a fittingly ominous Marley. Atkinson and Miller, a charming pair, respectively shine as Mrs. Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Oddly, Thompson, comfortably strapped to the Ebenezer puppet akin to Julie Taymor’s visualization of Timon in “The Lion King,” is more cranky than colorful, lessening his appeal in a role with numerous layers. Even so, he endearingly reiterates the joy permeating throughout Ebenezer’s chuckle-inducing transformation, which remains the ultimate heartwarming hallmark of this enduring tale.
“A Christmas Carol” continues through Dec. 15 in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium of the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park N., Dayton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Act One: 45 minutes; Act Two: 48 minutes. Tickets are priced at $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors and $12 for children 12 and under. For tickets, visit www.daytonartinstitute.org. For more information, visit http://zootttheatrecompany.org.