Ah, Charles Dickens. The English author most notorious for dreadfully long tales of struggle and turmoil amid a time of immense poverty and class-conflict in England. His “A Christmas Carol” is a tale filled with sentiment and tradition, evoking the most tender emotions in the coldest of hearts. Who doesn’t love a heartfelt story of a protagonist’s change of heart during the Christmas season? Who doesn’t enjoy that warm fuzzy feeling people get when they realize the joy of giving to others?
This is probably why The Goodman Theatre has produced its annual production of the play for more than 30 years now. That, and the fact the theater receives a staggering amount of money from those who’ve made it a tradition to see the show year after year. Quite frankly, it seems as though The Goodman has taken advantage of these particular sentiments and have neglected to incorporate crucial elements into the 2011 production of “A Christmas Carol.”
The acting in general is sloppy and overdone. For a play that goes on as long as this one does, for the actors to have to perform the same exact show over and over again every single day for a month and a half—especially when this is their second, third, or fourth time performing the same exact role in the same exact play—it’s understandable that the actors might get a bit exhausted or tired of reciting lines that both they and the audience know by heart. However, it’s their job; it’s what they’ve spent years trying to perfect; it’s what determines who gets the role and who doesn’t. There is a certain magic, a captivation into the characters’ minds and hearts, that must be present among the audience for the acting to be considered exceptional. While the acclaimed actors in “A Christmas Carol” certainly do their best, that magic could not be felt, and the lack of such could be heard in the overdramatic, booming voice of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Joe Minoso); the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present (Elizabeth Ledo and Peneloe Walker, respectively); and most importantly, Tiny Tim (Roni Akurati), the play’s second most important character next to Scrooge.
Another aspect of this year’s production is the color-blind casting. The interracial casting can arguably be seen as a tremendous way to update an old, stuffy play, especially one by Charles Dickens. While the equal employment opportunity act has served Goodman Theatre well as evidenced by the acting of various colored people in the audience—particularly Scrooge’s sister (Shanequa Beal), the ghost of Christmas present (Penelope Walker) and Mrs. Fezziwig (Ora Jones)—there is a burden on the producers of any given play to maintain a sense of historical accuracy. Interracial marriages and adoptive children of color are not exactly intertwined with the Industrial Revolution. Even if such social and cultural perceptions of this particular time period are indeed false, that does not change people’s perceptions. Bottom line: To get the audience fully involved into the play, they should not be sitting in their seats questioning such historical accuracy.
It will be noted, however, that color-blind casting did work for Walker, the ghost of Christmas present, who is not meant to be portrayed as a historically accurate character. Likewise, color-blind casting can certainly work with more modern day plays in which the setting is of a time where racism is not as prominent or not seen as a crucial element of the piece. Unfortunately, “A Christmas Carol” is not one of them.
Luckily, there are a few of the magical and worthwhile aspects of the play, particularly the set design and special effects. The snow, the strobe lights, the flying actors, the voice-overs, the multitude of presents in Scrooge’s room when the Ghost of Christmas Present comes to take him away, the massive schoolyard gate that comes down from the ceiling, the lighting on Scrooge’s future tombstone, the ornate costumes of the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, the starry background behind the Cratchits’ house and at the end—all are enough to make any little kid, and even some adults, wide-eyed with absolute astonishment. To build not one, not two, but three main set pieces that weigh in the thousands of pounds, to move them across the stage without any mishaps or injuries, to add special effects and logistics into that, are certainly commendable feats.
Nonetheless, as classic as “A Christmas Carol” may be, Goodman Theatre fails to do its best at presenting a commendable and high-quality show and rather relies on the patrons who will undoubtedly see the play regardless of how it is exhibited. Perhaps if this sentimental piece was seen as just a regular play, the essential components such as acting and historical accuracy would not be overlooked for the sake of making an easy profit. Needless to say, this year’s showing of “A Christmas Carol” could have definitely been improved.