Patrick Stewart cautions his public in the program: Don’t expect ornamentation. No Christmas fog, no visible ghosts of Christmases Past, Present or Future. No Tiny Tim, no warm Christmas fires.
This perennial one-man reading of “A Christmas Carol” is furnished strictly by the vigor of Charles Dickens’ words, the distinctive characterizations delivered by Stewart’s reading of them--and by the tricks they play on our imagination.
Stewart, who is a Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart (now known to larger audiences as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) expertly calibrates his reading.
In black suit and white shirt, he creates a world with a desk and a chair--slicing the air with the pages of his script, grousing as the diffident Scrooge, snarling as the furtive one, bursting into wrenching sobs as Bob Cratchit, breaking our hearts as Tiny Tim and chuckling with uncontrollable glee as the rehabilitated old miser.
It all works. The bleakness of Dickens’ rigorous imagery and suspense, in collusion with the actor’s virtuosity, even in as familiar a story as this, keeps us surprisingly close to the edge of our seats.
“A Christmas Carol,” Beckman Auditorium, Caltech, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m. $20-$25; (818) 356-4652, (800) 423-8849. Running time: 2 hours.