McGarry Singlehandedly Brings ‘A Christmas Carol’ To Life (4.5 Stars)

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas – By Charles Dickens; Directed by Ross McDonald; Presented by The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company. Featuring Neal McGarry in a solo performance touring various venues through December 23rd.

After having recently seen the rather spectacular version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ now playing at the North Shore Music Theatre, I was not sure how I would respond to the (almost) one-man version now being performed throughout Boston and the South Shore by The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company and its founder and producing artistic director, Neil McGarry. I’m happy to report that even stripped of musical numbers and ghostly special effects, the story is just as rewarding and compelling as any version you might see on stage or screen, largely due to the masterful performance of McGarry.

As the show opens we see the barest of sets, with only a coat rack with a single strand of pine garland wrapped around it, adorned with a half dozen oversized ornaments, simulating a Christmas tree. McGarry comes onstage with a prop trunk on his back and loudly plunks it down on the stage with a thud before launching into the Dickens classic with, “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”

The beauty of this performance is that we get the original Dickens text, which actually provides more insight into the character of Scrooge and his fellow players than the audience is offered in other vehicles. But this is no mere recitation of the story. McGarry fully inhabits each of the characters, pausing just long enough to allow the audience to be able to differentiate each individual person, from Tiny Tim to the Ghost of Christmas Present. There are no over-the-top caricatures here (a la the late Robin Williams) although some of the portrayals made me laugh just as hard as any Williamss creation. And the scene where Scrooge sees Marley’s face in place of the door knocker nearly made me jump out of my seat.

McGarry uses the whole stage and beyond, including interacting with the audience in his role as narrator. His re-creation of the party scene where young Scrooge and his friend Dick Wilkins apprenticed for Fezziwig was a joy to watch, and as he danced about you could almost see his partners smiling along with him. And while McGarry handles nearly all characterizations himself, he is ably aided by Erica Simpson, who in addition to supplying the sound effects with pinpoint accuracy, beautifully delivers a (offstage voice)performance as Belle, young Scrooge’s betrothed, who decides not to marry him when she realizes that she had been replaced by gold in Scrooge’s hardening heart.

McGarry is a gifted actor, and no-one appears to be having a better time than him during the performance. Scrooge’s transformation from emotional and financial skinflint to a fully realized and loving human being is convincing and heartwarming, and this is a performance well worth seeing, especially for those seeking the true meaning of the holiday. There are a handful of performances remaining, including 12/18 to 12/ 21 at the Plymouth Center For The Arts – Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8pm, & Sun at 5pm, and a final performance on 12/23 in Quincy at the First Presbyterian Church at 8pm. For more info, go to: