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For the second year in a row, the Argenta Community Theater is staging Little Rock playwright Judy Goss' adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Despite wet, cold opening night weather, an appreciative, packed house responded warmly to the old Christmas ghost story.

Dickens' tale has endured these many years in part because the lessons in it -- primarily coming from the redemption of noted wet blanket Ebeneezer Scrooge -- retain as much power as they did when the novella was published in 1843. The primary takeaway from ACT's current production is that Christmas traditions come about through great care and attention to detail.

Director Vince Insalaco doesn't play cute with Dickens (opting for traditional costumes and a traditional Victorian setting) and Goss' adaptation is a faithful one. The large cast is filled with local actors -- quite a few of whom are related to each other -- and practically all break out into song throughout the show. ACT isn't anybody's idea of a palatial theater, yet the detailed set (designed by Sara Cooke) and painstaking production (that includes lots of fog and, yes, snow) feels traditional in the sense of something that is solid and sturdy.

It is easy to forget that A Christmas Carol is supposed to frighten -- Scrooge has his you-know-what kicked around by some ghosts, after all. This production doesn't skimp on the frights or the special effects.

In this comforting, confident atmosphere, the actors are incisive and compelling even as the show sometimes could use a little prodding to move along. Ben Barham's Scrooge is what you want out of this central character -- a generous mixture of the salty giving way to the sweet. Barham doesn't overplay the humbug, and so his turnaround at the end feels all the more honest and true.

It is no small thing when A Christmas Carol, which lost its power to surprise a long time ago, can still move an audience. This one does just that.

A Christmas Carol continues through Dec. 15 at the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock. For tickets, call the box office at (501) 353-1571 or see the website, argentacommunitytheater.org.

Metro on 12/08/2018

Print Headline: ACT's Christmas Carol warm, honestly moving

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