Christmas is on its way, and there is no better way to celebrate than with Henry Wishcamper’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. Charles Dickens’ classic story is familiar to many people, so it is easy to expect the same old story that has been told for generations. Too many times have play adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” simply parroted the book with no originality present; however, the combination of seamless scene changes, quality actor portrayals, and original hilarity saves “A Christmas Carol” from being an old and tired piece of work.
Wishcamper’s “A Christmas Carol” is canonical to the original writing, following the adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) as he jumps through timelines of his own life. He is visited by three ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Patrick Andrews), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Lisa Gaye Dixon), and the Ghost of Christmas Future (J. Salomé Martinez). Wishcamper keeps Scrooge as a round character, constantly watching his own life and those around him, making side comments only wishing he could change that one little thing. Yando’s portrayal of Scrooge is more than satisfactory making Scrooge’s self-deprecation wholeheartedly believable. There are times where Yando may fool the audience into thinking he really does hate Christmas!
“Bah Humbug!" Scrooge says, hunched over his desk, glasses perched on the tip of his nose. He looks like the physical embodiment of an old greedy man. Only the opening scene and already Yando proves to be the perfect choice. His voice has a bitter edge that emanates the churlishness that is Ebenezer Scrooge, and his facial expressions are those of one who has a passionate disdain for Christmas. Yando connects his character’s mental characteristics with physical actions even when Scrooge begins to unfold and develop a heart for those around him. The actions are minuscule yet noticeable, and creates a complex character.
Speaking of amazing characterization, the three ghosts featured in this play do a wonderful job at offsetting the sullen nature of Scrooge, and their costumes are interesting to say the least (though when I imagined the Ghost of Christmas Past being bonded by burdens, seeing him wrapped in strips of leather is not exactly what I had in mind). The Ghost of Christmas Past is ethereal, the Ghost of Christmas Present is boisterous, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is constant; everything Scrooge is not.
“A Christmas Carol” also retains the air of melancholy Dickens had in his book. Gloomy scenes are amplified with dramatic sound effects, dark lighting, and shadowy sets. Scrooge encounters the Ghost of Christmas Future and all but two spots of the stage become dark. The Ghost of Christmas Future is tall and menacing, resembling a silent Grim Reaper. The music of this scene is eerie and unearthly. The lighting, Ghost of Christmas Future, and music are what give this scene its supernatural feel.
This play is not all melancholy though. The times where certain moments appear to be woeful turn out to be driven by humor. I felt myself remembering the lines from the play being the exact lines from the book, yet somehow they are portrayed differently than the lines in the book. Each line seems to be dipped in humor not conveyed in Dickens’ writing. There’s even humor in the way Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit (Ron E. Rains) asks to put more coal in the furnace, sneakily trying to add more than the advised one piece of coal. Scrooge’s frightfulness when his old friend Jacob Marley (Joe Foust) comes to warn him about the three ghosts and when said ghosts come to collect Scrooge manages to drag laughs from the audience.
The humor keeps “A Christmas Carol” from becoming a monotonous production.
Apart from the amusement and Yando’s portrayal, the transition from one scene to another is flawless with set pieces flying in and flying out without pause (there was one technical difficulty during the Saturday showing but Yando continued to stay in character even as the curtain began to come down, and the matter was solved within a few minutes). The set pieces are huge with many details, and give the audience more than just a script to later rave about.
Even if the book is not a favorite, Wishcamper’s “A Christmas Carol” is highly recommended. Perhaps a different perspective is all that is needed to actually enjoy Dickens’ writing, and Wishcamper definitely gives that.