A Christmas Carol is like the Shakespeare of Christmas plays if Shakespeare's entire body of work was just one play: It's done every year in every imaginable way.
Case in point: There are three different productions of the play in Portland this week, from a period-costume production to a circus adaptation to a one-man dinner-theater show. That might sound like stuffy traditionalism and gimmicks disguising traditionalism, but we saw all three (with the exception of A Circus Carol, which we watched in rehearsal) and found that we still liked the sci-fi thriller about an old white guy who's taught how to love life and Christmas with the help of time-traveling ghosts.
A Circus Carol at Alberta Rose Theatre
A Circus Carol is the only Portland production of A Christmas Carol in which Tiny Tim wears breakaway pants. In Wanderlust Circus' adaption, Tiny Tim (Tera Zarra) is an aerialist, Marley's ghost (Scot Crandal) is an opera singer, and Bob Cratchit (Charles Brown) is a juggler. In the flashback scene, young Scrooge (Jon Dutch) and his fiancee (Sophia Karenina) sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" before launching into the air for an acrobatic interlude. It might seem completely random to turn A Christmas Carol into a circus, but according to the show's Scrooge and creator, Noah Mickens, it actually makes total sense. "A Christmas Carol is really useful for us as a circus review because it's so episodic," Mickens says. "Because people recognize the iconic scenes from A Christmas Carol. You can just kind of move through the scene, crack a few jokes and go into the circus act." SHANNON GORMLEY.
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St., albertarosetheatre.com. 8 pm Friday-Sunday, Dec. 16-18. $20-$40 adults, $15 12 and under.
One-Man A Christmas Carol at Picnic House
In a dining room reminiscent of the first-class quarters aboard the Titanic, Phillip J. Berns plays Scrooge and everybody else in A Christmas Carol. Though it's just one guy performing on a staircase, Berns pulls it off. One moment, he's wide-eyed and flailing his arms to portray a child. In the next scene, he chillingly locks eyes with the audience as Scrooge, and you feel palpably inadequate just as Dickens intended. Even the accompanying pianist (Christopher Beatty) succumbs to the role of the boy paid to buy the giant turkey on Christmas morning by squawking in fear in response to Berns' Scrooge. But it's Berns' acting chops that are most impressive. The sheer complexity of memorizing pages of Victorian London dialect is an accomplishment on its own, and his zealous portrayal of an endless procession of personalities is what makes the interpretation both endearing and innovative. JACK RUSHALL.
Picnic House, 723 SW Salmon St., picnichousepdx.com. 5:45 pm Sunday, Dec. 18 (sold out), and Monday, Dec. 26. $75 includes dinner.
Traditional A Christmas Carol at Portland Playhouse
You don't expect the traditionalist version of an extremely familiar play to be mind-blowing. But Portland Playhouse leverages the well-trodden script to show off some arty production values that are actually very cool. Marley's ghost (Todd Van Voris) arises from an eerily lit sub-stage stairwell, and several other actors join in with his lines to create one giant, dissonant voice. The Ghost of Christmas Future (played by multiple actors) looks like a shadow-puppet Babadook with the help of a large sheet of fabric and some candles. Both the sound effects and music are played live, and the actors convincingly switch from one role to another, sometimes without changing costume or even their position on the stage. Plus, it's pretty fucking cute when Tiny Tim (Serelle Strickland) sings a tiny carol in a tiny voice at the Cratchits' Christmas dinner. SHANNON GORMLEY. Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St., portlandplayhouse.com. 7 pm Tuesday-Sunday, 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, through Dec. 30. $34.