Valley Shakespeare’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ review

Valley Shakespeare Festival presented its third annual free script- in- hand dramatic staged reading of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic “A Christmas Carol” this past weekend at Shelton’s Plumb Memorial Library.

The two showings were presented to capacity audiences both days, with over one hundred happy Valley Shakespeare Festival’s adaptation of the Victorian-era tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his miraculous journey to redemption one Christmas Eve was presented in one hour, with minimal staging and costuming, and only a short introduction about the time period in which it was written and the social and economic conditions in England at the time which prompted Dickens to pen the story.

The cast consisted of only seven actors, some playing multiple roles; the stage was the Plumb Memorial Library’s beautiful Romanesque Reading Room, its lovely stained glass windows providing the backdrop for the actors and their four music stands.

Jeremy Funke, a cherished performer with Valley Shakespeare Festival and New Haven’s Elm  Shakespeare Company, reprised his role as Scrooge, depicting the character’s  transformation as elegantly as any performer ever has.  Each year he imbues his performance with more passion and subtlety than the previous year, giving audiences a more and more profound understanding of the old Tom Simonetti, the company’s Executive and Artistic Director, took on three separate roles, but none more memorable than his Bob Cratchit.  When he finished his heartbreaking rendition of “Silent Night” after telling his family about his visit to Tiny Tim’s grave, the atmosphere in the room was as silent solemn as the song itself.

Gary Harger, former music director of St. Lawrence Church, also tackled three separate roles, expertly presenting distinct personalities in each.  His Mr. Fezziwig was jolly and gregarious and his Old Joe was both sleazy and likeable at the same time.  But his Ghost of Christmas Present was by far his most affecting.  Harger’s booming trained voice commanded both attention and respect as he led Scrooge on his journey through the streets of London, opening his eyes and mind to what was always there, but had gone previously unnoticed by the old man.  Harger played the scene in which the Ghost reveals the two sickly urchins beneath his cloak with such subtlety and sobriety that one couldn’t help but share Scrooge’s shame.

The remaining four cast members, Patrick Robert Kelly, Jessica Breda, Tara Reuter and Gwendolyn Niles all also played multiple roles.

Mr. Kelly’s deep baritone voice was vintage Jacob Marley, while Ms. Breda’s portrayal of the long-suffering, yet ever selfless and sympathetic Mrs. Cratchit was beautiful to behold.

Tara Reuter, playing no fewer than five parts, shone most brightly as Scrooge’s sister, Fan, and the cockney Charwoman who appropriated Scrooge’s paltry belongings after his death to pawn.

Gwendolyn Niles, the cast’s lone thirteen-year old “child” actress, bravely took on the roles of Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Christmas Past with the maturity and professionalism of any veteran.  This was her fourth time performing with Valley Shakespeare Festival, having also been cast in the company’s summer productions of Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as in last year’s A Christmas Carol.

After each performance, audience members were invited to meet and mingle with the cast and crew while enjoying warm mulled cider and homemade cookies.

Valley Shakespeare Festival also took this opportunity to introduce its 2016 season.  Next up, on March 10 and 11, will be the latest entry in its “Shakespeare in the Bar” series, Moliere’s saucy comedy, Tartuffe.  As in the past, the script-in-hand staged reading will take place at Porky’s Café in Shelton.

The company’s summer event for 2016 will be Shakespeare’s raucous battle of the sexes comedy, The Taming of the Shrew.  It will be presented with full costuming and staging outdoors on July 14-17 in Shelton’s Riverwalk-Veterans Memorial Park.

Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a tale of riddles, revenge and perilous adventure, will be the company’s touring production for 2016. Organizations wishing to bring VSF’s world to theirs, can now do so by engaging them through this Touring Program.

Valley Shakespeare Festival is a non-profit theater company, dedicated to serving the communities of the lower Naugatuck Valley.  Anyone wishing to know more about them can access their website at, find them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram or call 203-513-9446.