There are few plays that can be watched over and over again and still produce the same feeling of childlike wonderment one gets the first time they see a production. A Christmas Carol is one of those plays. I have been seeing the show for many years now, and Tom Creamer’s adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas classic still awakens in me the Christmas joy one only really experiences as a child on Christmas day.
As far as I can tell, the script has remained unchanged over the years I have had the pleasure of seeing this show. However, director Steve Scott brings a freshness to this classic tale of redemption that creates an entirely new experience. Even the actors who are returning to the cast, including Larry Yando, who plays Scrooge, seem to have developed and come close to perfecting their characters.
The cast as a whole is superb, with a few slight exceptions. I found that Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Demetrios Troy), lacked the mirth and likability I so enjoyed in past performances. These qualities are essential in connecting him to his mother, Scrooge’s sister Fan, and in establishing his and Scrooge’s one-sided friendship.
The woman playing Scrooge’s ex-wife Belle (Nora Fiffer) also failed to impress. Fiffer insisted on a poor attempt at an Irish brogue that detracted from her performance and was even, at times, harsh to the ears.
On the other hand, Larry Yando’s performance is particularly excellent. He plays the iconic miser with a peculiar charm. We simultaneously shake our heads and laugh in amazement at Yando’s perfectly harsh “Bah humbugs.” We cheer in mirth when Scrooge dances around his chambers to the horror of the Charwoman. We smile like idiots when he comes, vulnerable and penitent, to his nephew’s Christmas dinner.
What really brought Dickens’ world to life was the atmosphere onstage. The play opened with men, women, and children of various classes singing an old carol and beginning the tale with the famous opening line: “Marley was dead.” The hustle and bustle and feeling of cheer at Christmastime was well-represented in the ruddy visages and jovial voices of the actors, as well as in the quaint town setting and falling “snow.”
The scenes in the bustling streets of London bore a stark contrast to those in Scrooge’s counting house. Dark, dingy, and having a sort of chilly atmosphere, the set perfectly coincides with Scrooge’s own nature at the beginning of the play. Meanwhile, the Cratchits’ house is warm, homey, and comfortable, as is Scroog’es nephew Fred’s, even though the set for his home consists of only a hanging window and a few props.
Much of the attractiveness of A Christmas Carol comes from the appearances of the three Christmas spirits. Naturally, these specters would be the most difficult elements to translate into onstage characters. The Goodman, however, typically brings these spirits to life, so to speak, in unexpected ways.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is, in the book, supposed to be like a flame, symbolizing Scrooge’s blazing past, the light of which he constantly blocks out. This characterization would be difficult to portray on stage, but Scott’s choices were, for the most part, satisfactory. The pixie-like woman playing the spirit flits around like Peter Pan and glows with a silvery light. The only thing detracting from the representation of the spirit were the strobe lights, a new feature in the Goodman’s A Christmas Carol that shone in the eyes of audience members. There is a reason that strobe lights come with a warning.
What makes this play so special is that it reminds us all of who we are and who we might be. Every day we are offered opportunities to do good, and often we ignore them. We see that Scrooge is a caricature of our own natures. Through Scrooge’s own redemption, we experience a catharsis that reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. As Fred says, Christmastime is “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” The Goodman’s A Christmas Carol invokes just such thoughts.