Alright, so here's the challenge. How do you see a production of "A Christmas Carol" for the first time? How do you make the story of Ebenezer Scrooge fresh again, after it's been done and re-done, parodied, camped, travestied, musicalized and animated? For me, the way to bring fresh eyes to the production was to borrow the eyes of two little girls, Lachlin, age 5 and McKenna, age 9, neither of whom had ever seen the story on stage before.
A Contemporary Theatre, which has held the "Christmas Carol" franchise since 1976, mounts a finished, straight down the middle traditional production, short on innovation but strong on narrative clarity, acting craftsmanship and well-controlled sentiment. The physical production is lovely, and the staging, done in the round, insures intimacy. Played in a brisk 90 minutes, without intermission, the evening is lean and taut. While it never really achieves any great height, it's honest and effective. For those all too familiar with the play, Seattle Rep offers Daniel Sullivan's hilarious send-up, "Inspecting Carol", but for anyone wanting the story in its original, literary telling, this adaptation by Gregory A. Falls is admirable.
The role of Ebenezer Scrooge is being played alternately by Michael Morgan-Dunne and David Pichette. On opening night, Mr. Pichette presented a Scrooge who was flinty and bloodless at the outset, but who readily tapped into the child of his youth to re-discover the joys of the season. Said McKenna, "he's mean, but he doesn't like it". Pichette is a disciplined performer, and his unreformed Scrooge was unyielding and emphatic. His delight in the pleasant memories of the holidays spent at Mister Fezziwig's (nicely played by Richard Ziman) was as gay and festive as the fancy dance itself. What I found missing from Scrooge, however, was a stronger connection with the suffering of others, and his own responsibility to alleviate it. It seems to me that with his first, frightful confrontation with mortality, in the person of Marley, there needs to be an urgency about his response that accounts for his new insight into the situation of Bob Crachit (Kevin Donovan), of Tiny Tim (David Armo), and of his own legacy. Instead, what we saw much more was simply an outsider who now wants to be included, to be loved. As Lachlin asked, "Doesn't he want anybody to like him?"
Alright, now I'm starting to sound like a drama critic panning a Rose Parade float for being gaudy. The fact is, this story has wandered far afield from the rather terrifying ghost story it began as, to a kind of homily on Christmas values. What did my little girls see? They saw some wonderful effects (Lachlin pronounced the appearance of Marley, emerging like a ghastly yellow wraith from the flaming terrors below to be "almost scary," as she dug three inches into her mother's side). They saw familiar characters acting in the expected ways (McKenna: "The ladies are so beautiful, and Bob Crachit just wants to be with his family"). They saw a surprisingly robust Tiny Tim (McKenna: "I'm not exactly sure why he was going to die"), whom they both liked enough (Lachlin: "He's cute"), that they didn't want the ending to be sad. And they understood that old Scrooge learned something important (McKenna: "He learned to keep the Christmas spirit all year, and not just at Christmas"). And in an extra-theatrical way, they learned that sharing a familiar story, as a family, can make it brand new.
I doubt that this particular evening of theatre will go down as one of my unforgettable experiences of watching the stage, but I do know that my memories of the looks on those two little girl's faces, enchanted by imagination, enthralled in story, bewitched by costumes and lights and effects, warmed by kind sentiment, will be my standard for "A Christmas Carol" for some time to come.
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