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Granite review / Tom Verde: Large cast brings ‘Carol’ to life

If the muzak carols at the malls or the twinkling street decorations — dusted off and dragged, by now, from city hall basements from here to Santa Barbara — aren’t enough to convince you, let us say it here: The Christmas season is upon us.

Yet amid the clamor of stampeding feet at midnight madness sales and Bing Crosby’s paean to a white Christmas (even as snow blowers dominate coveted, point-of-purchase retail corners), it’s nice to be reminded of the spirit of the holiday — or its three spirits, to be precise — at the Granite Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” playing now through Dec. 22.

This faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless holiday classic features a fulsome cast (nearly every player whoever walked the boards there at the Granite, it seems) that brings to life those familiar characters whose names are synonymous with the season: Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and, of course, Scrooge.

Ed Benjamin III sufficiently growls and scowls his way through his performance as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Upstaging him in every scene is John Lamar as Scrooge’s kind-hearted, faithful clerk, Bob Cratchit. With his jowly smile, twinkling eyes and mouse-like demeanor, Lamar seems to have truly stepped from the vintage, illustrated pages of Dickens’ classic. Also notable, in the roles of both the 2nd Almsman and Mr. Fezziwig, is the brilliantly cast Christopher Donohue, a man of, let us say, Clausian proportions, and even more considerable talent. He adds a good bit of Christmas spice to his roles, as the ingratiating almsman, fruitlessly trying to pry a donation for the “poor and destitute” from Scrooge’s tight-fisted grasp, and as the merry-hearted Fezziwig, whose love of Christmas is superseded only by his love of dancing.

Like Donohue and many of the other cast members, Micheala Pendola plays several roles in the drama, yet it is her performance as Scrooge’s erstwhile love, “Belle,” that stands out from the rest. The pathos with which she returns her engagement ring to young Scrooge (Michael Purcell) is touching, and makes you almost, like Scrooge, reach out to her before she exits the stage, and poor Scrooge’s life, for good. Purcell also plays the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” (in an inky-black and faceless costume that is eerily effective), while Steve Spartano, as the “Ghost of Christmas Present,” dominates the stage with his deep bass voice and towering frame.

In his final scene with Scrooge, it is nice to see that artistic director (and one of the play’s adapters) David Jepson included the pitiful, yet frightening, juvenile characters of “Want” and “Ignorance.” Too often, in many an adaptation of “Christmas Carol,” these key figures are consigned to the editing-room floor. Yet their inclusion in the story, from a sociological perspective, is critical. Just as the ghost warns Scrooge, Dickens was warning his readers that unless society address the needs of the less fortunate, society as a whole was endangered — a timely Christmas sentiment that applies, in fact, at any given time of the year.

But of all the spirits, top hats and sleeping caps alike must go off to young Nicholas Fair in the role of the “Ghost of Christmas Past.” Donned in silken white garments, with an illuminated wand in hand, Fair is delicate, yet demanding of Scrooge as he escorts him past the “shadows of the things that have been.” Nearly as convincing is Fair’s portrayal of “Matthew,” the boy who passes beneath Scrooge’s window on Christmas morning and is enjoined to go and fetch the prize turkey from the window of the Poulterer “in the next street but one” as an anonymous gift for the Cratchits.

Tickets for this seasonal delight, playing at the Granite Theater, 1 Granite St. in Westerly, are available at the box office, by calling 401-596-234 and by visiting

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