The holiday season is a joyful time of year, and to help usher it in, Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” is now playing at the Goodman Theatre.
The play, directed by Henry Wishcamper, is set in London, England in the 1800s and centers on the mean-spirited and greedy old man Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando). Scrooge is a businessman, and the first we see of him is hunched over at his desk on a frigid Christmas Eve, counting money while his timid clerk Bob Cratchit (Ron E. Rains) hovers nearby, shivering from the cold (Scrooge refuses to pay for coals to heat the fire).
The juxtaposition between Scrooge’s darkness and Cratchit’s goodness sets the stage for the play. Scrooge is oblivious to the sufferings of his clerk, just as he is oblivious to the hardships of the poor all around him as he bathes in money.
Scrooge’s shop, like the other houses on stage, perfectly portrays England in the 1800s. Set designer Todd Rosenthal outdid himself. Vendors roam the streets with wheelbarrows toting their goods and snow falls softly outside Scrooge’s window, barely visible through frosted windows. Just as Scrooge cannot see outside his windows, he cannot see what is happening around him in the larger world.
Even more lovely than the snow is the easy transition between sets. At the end of the first scene Yando closes the door to Scrooge’s shop and hops off the raised platform. Scrooge’s shop rolls offstage just as his forbidding mansion comes onstage. With a dark slanted roof Scrooge’s house almost seems symbolic of Scrooge’s slanted morals.
Speaking of, Yando isn’t new to Scrooge’s character, and it’s easy to tell. In fact, this is his seventh year as Scrooge, and he plays it beautifully. Complete with a crooked back and sneering face, Yando is convincing in his role and makes the audience despise his character.
At the same time, Yando knows when to overplay his part to get a laugh from the audience, and those moments of comedic relief make Act I what it is.
Things get a little weird with a surprise visit by Scrooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley (Joe Foust), now a ghost pale and pallid, bound in heavy chains and clothed in rags. Marley literally enters Scrooge’s dark world with a burst of light, fog shrouding his body and foreboding music thumping away.
What happened next was even more unexpected. The curtain dropped.
Sunday’s matinee audience sat stunned as “technical difficulties” were announced. Minutes later the curtain rose again, but it wasn’t the same. Stopping the scene at its most climactic moment interrupted the momentum of Act I.
That said, the scene continued. Marley warns that if Scrooge does not repent his ways, his spirit will be condemned to wander Earth forever. He also tells Scrooge that he will be 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. Salome Martinez) each night for three days.
Costume designer Heidi Sue McMath had fun designing the outfits of the mystical ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Present, for example, was clad in a magnificent red gown and red cape that oozed opulence, and tossed sparkles unstintingly (which just made her that much cooler).
The Ghost of Christmas Past, however, played by the handsome young Andrews, looks more like a Greek god than the childlike phantom Dickens intended. But perhaps The Ghost of Christmas Past looks more god than human because don’t we all idealize our past, like Scrooge.
With live musicians onstage, including a french horn (Justin Amolsch), violin (Andrew Coil), and fiddle (Greg Hirte), the ghosts transport Scrooge through time, showcasing not only elegant choreographed dances but also the juxtaposition between darkness and light, Christmas for the poor and Christmas for the rich.
When the ghosts take their leave, Scrooge is a new man. Scrooge is finally illuminated by the truth of poverty and the hardships therein. His slanted morals have shifted, and the frost has cleared from his soul.
Determined to redeem himself, he sends a giant turkey to his clerk Cratchit’s house, and gives him a generous raise. He even bounds out into the street calling out “Merry Christmas” to anyone that will listen and showers lavish gifts on the poor.
If Scrooge’s joyful transformation doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit of happiness, compassion, and charity, I don’t know what will.