Tonight, you will be visited by three spirits. Watch for when the clock strikes one… then two… then three. You won’t believe what emerges from the dark shadows.
Well, Scrooge won’t believe it. Not for a few scenes. As for us, we’ll eat it up, no questions asked. I can think of few stories more drained of suspense than A Christmas Carol. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Grabbing a seat for a performance, anywhere, of this beloved perennial fable isn’t really about going to see a stage drama. Perhaps a little… but I can’t imagine the theatrical merit of staging this in, say, April. Its worth is rooted in the seasonal setting in which we, not the characters, reside. The show is nothing less than a ritual, as trusted and ubiquitous as holiday Mass or Grandma’s 6pm eggnog soiree.
We attend unblinking as ever, knowing what to expect, mouthing the words as we listen to them spoken. Which is a bit odd, given that the Dickens novella – nearly 170 years old and never once out-of-print – is such a strange, hearty brew of sadness, love, hope, isolation, and a deliciously Victorian strain of nighttime terror. And it’s the author’s skill at blending such powerful opposing elements that allows for such a broad spectrum of re-imaginings. Some theatre companies tell it as a chilling spook story. Others craft the show into a bright, shining gift basket of cheer.
Ford’s production leans toward the latter, with a cast of 17 (plus a rotating youth cast of 12) putting their grinning energies into an earnest and wholesome staging, if not a unique or invigorating one. The strength of the show, directed by Michael Baron, is in the fun choreography of the ensemble scenes (think Fezziwig’s party), as well as in the splendid design – particularly Rui Rita’s iridescent light design and Lee Savage’s beautiful use of cityscape and industrial metal to fill that awfully big proscenium with pertinent backdrop.
Perhaps it’s partly due to the vaulting venue that the show gets better the more people there are onstage. There’s an appealing touch of chamber theatre to the early narration, as the townsfolk gather to tell the story as a collective (the first line – “Marley was dead to begin with” – comes from a very entertaining Anne Stone, who doubles as the Ghost of Christmas Present). The focus doesn’t quite hold, though, as we move out of the public square and into our antihero’s private odyssey.
As Ebeneezer Scrooge, Ed Gero is quite good. Rather than the wizened, grumpy elder we often see doddering around center stage, this Scrooge has a salty vitality that adds legitimacy to his role as executive over the hapless Bob Cratchit (Christopher Bloch). It doesn’t all soar, though. Scrooge’s one-on-one dialogue with Bob, the townsfolk, and the ghosts is perfectly serviceable, but the interactions feel rote at times. When the energy wanes, it’s awfully hard to get out of the rut, since it’s possible – though not very exciting – to coast through by relying on the audience’s well-worn relationship with the text. At times, we lose that sense of high stakes – the threat of loneliness, loss, and death – that pricks Scrooge to moral action.
Still, the package’s too nicely wrapped to come apart. The actors are clearly having fun, their singing voices are great, the children are not only endearing but vivacious and skilled, and a number of supporting performers inject some extra heart, among them Helen Hedman as Scrooge’s dotty maid and Tom Story as both Fred and Young Scrooge.
We come to see A Christmas Carol because, of course, we want to feel the holiday spirit. But what does that mean, exactly? We want to feel warm fuzzies in our hearts, but that’s only half the answer. It’s also about tempering that bubbling, complacent feeling with a dash of humble selflessness. This, of course, is really the Christmas spirit: charity, community and good acts.
As the audience files out of Ford’s Theatre, actors from the show wait with hats, helping to take donations on behalf of Ford’s partnership with So Others Might Eat, a DC organization that helps feed, clothe, and treat the homeless and poor. The best way to avoid a chronic case of the Humbugs, we remember all too infrequently, is simply to come, to share, and to give back. Leave it to a chilly trio of ghosts to remind us how to stay warm.
A Christmas Carol
Adapted by Michael Wilson from the book by Charles Dickens
Directed by Michael Baron
Produced by Ford’s Theatre
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
- Peter Marks . Washington Post