Reviewed by Judy Richter
No matter how familiar Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" has become, American Conservatory Theater's production is worth seeing if only for James Carpenter's portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. Carpenter's Scrooge is a marvel to watch as the miserly, solitary, old curmudgeon is gradually transformed into a loving, giving man who captures the true meaning of Christmas.
The transformation is aided by a series of ghosts, starting with Jacob Marley (Jack Willis), Scrooge's deceased partner, who warns him that if he doesn't change his ways, he will be condemned to wander through eternity shackled in the chains he forged in life. Marley tells him to expect three more ghosts, starting with the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Jacobs), who arrives on a trapeze. That ghost takes Scrooge into scenes from his younger days, starting with his boyhood and continuing into his young adult years as an apprentice to jolly Mr. Fezziwig (Jarion Monroe), who hosts a lively holiday party with Mrs. Fezziwig (Sharon Lockwood). Here we meet Belle (Emily Kitchens), Scrooge's girlfriend, who later renounces their engagement when he becomes more interested in money making than merry making at Christmas.
The Ghost of Christmas Present (BW Gonzalez, who can be too shrill) shows him scenes at the home of his good-natured nephew, Fred (Philip Mills), and his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Gregory Wallace), who celebrates a meager but happy holiday with his wife (René Augesen) and children. Finally the Ghost of Christmas Future, an apparition rather than anything human-like, shows him his own unmourned death as well as the lamented death of Bob's young son, Tiny Tim (Calum John). Each successive scene from past to present to future makes Scrooge more nostalgic for the man he was and more determined to become that good man once again.
ACT's production of the 1843 short story is a 2005 adaptation by artistic director Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh. Domenique Lozano directs the large cast, which includes not only veteran and core ACT company actors but also 21 children ages 8 to 19 from its Young Conservatory and the entire MFA Program class of 2010. The music is by Karl Lundeberg, with musical direction by Laura Burton. Choreography is by Val Caniparoli, with scenery by John Arnone, colorful costumes by Beaver Bauer, lighting by Nancy Schertler and sound by Jake Rodriguez.
ACT's "A Christmas Carol" has become a much-loved holiday tradition that appeals to all ages in the Bay Area. The audience at the Friday night performance I saw included many youngsters, some of whom presumably were seeing their first professional theatrical performance. What a great way to introduce them to the joys of a timeless story beautifully delivered, especially by Carpenter.