Amanda Sallman on A Christmas Carol

Amanda Sallman on A Christmas Carol

Posted by: Amanda Sallman at 11/24/2014 03:30 PM

The classic Charles Dickens’ tale, “A Christmas Carol”, reignites every winter at the Goodman theatre, bringing new touches and affects each time. In this year’s show, adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, Ebenezer Scrooge once again discovers the meaning of Christmas in The Goodman’s 37th run of “A Christmas Carol”.

Henry Wishcamper returns to direct his second “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman. Wishcamper maintains a sufficient sense of space, using as little as one actor to fill an entire stage with personality and emotion. “A Christmas Carol” displays several tones and moods throughout the entire show. The direction ensures that these transitions glide along without pause through the moving set pieces and varying emotions. A popular tale, nothing in this show lacks integrity or consideration.

Taking place on Christmas Eve in Victorian England, Act 1 begins with the narrator (Kareem Bandealy) explaining that Jacob Marley, Ebenezer’s business partner, died seven years ago. We then meet a stern Mr. Scrooge (Larry Yando) and his timid worker, Bob Cratchit (Ron E. Rains). Yando makes it apparent that Scrooge is a self-serving, merciless man. Upon Scrooge’s return home that night, Jacob Marley (Joe Foust) appears to Scrooge as a spirit, bearing the chains of his life. He warns Scrooge of this fate, saying that he too faces the doom of carrying the same weights once he dies.  In response to his old friend’s pleas, Marley offers an alternative- Scrooge shall be visited by three spirits: The Ghost of Christmas, Past, Present, and Future.  Thus begins the classic storyline of A Christmas Carol.

The first part of Act 1 offers enriching theatrical effects, such as loud bangs and bright flashes, capable of causing a bit of shock. Abrupt flashes of lights done by lighting designer Keith Parham and sharp, clamoring sounds designed by Richard Woodbury have the potential to spook easily frightened audience members (including me). Unfortunately, at the November 22 matinee, technical difficulties stopped the show for a few minutes. Nothing too major, though, as the show continued like nothing even happened. Nonetheless, this scene involving Marley and Scrooge can stir up terror from the jumpy, and awe from everyone.

From a gorgeous spectacle of lights and trumpets and glitter emerges, well, a Victoria Secret model. The ghost of Christmas Past (Patrick Andrews, clad in a silver skirt, feathered wings, and glitter coating his body) arrives to whisk Scrooge back to his past to recount what made him so glum and dreary. The audience sees Scrooge as a boy (William A. Burke), lonely and partially abandoned, and Scrooge as a young man (Kareem Bandealy), foolish and greedy. Impressively, racial boundaries disappear entirely in this show, as a talented young actor of color portrays Scrooge as a boy, while Yando himself is white. The diversity throughout the entire cast really displays a bright change for the future of theatre. As for the Ghost of Christmas Past, the distracting costume and forced flamboyancy overwhelm a truly talented actor. The glitter seems a tad unnecessary, and the costume depicts more of a “Greek God” than a ghost.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Lisa Gaye Dixon) shows Scrooge the current Christmas, in many homes and forms. Through this spirit, the audience sees Scrooge begin to care about someone other than himself. He learns that Cratchit is the father of a young crippled boy who is destined to die. Ebenezer shows sincerity in his concern for this young boy, and is then introduced to Want and Need, two of humankind’s deadliest flaws. And then, he encounters the Ghost he fears more than any other, the Ghost of Christmas’ Future (J. Salome Martinez). Towering over at least 20 feet tall, this character occurs either by some sort of technologically advanced pulley system, or several people standing on each other’s shoulders. While amusing, the latter seems improbable due to the stagnancy of this apparition. The dark figure shows Scrooge how little his imminent death will impact those who know him. Disturbed, Scrooge wakes up from this apparent “dream” a changed man. He goes out of his way from then on to make everyone’s Christmas. Suddenly, he’s not so anti-Christmas.

Act 2 achieved two things- dimming and lightening the mood, in that order. It offers gentle and meaningful transitions from one to another. The end of the show warms hearts, to say the least. After a harsh and scary situation, a gentle and giddy sequence calms the plot down. Seeing Ebenezer Scrooge joyful on Christmas changes the whole game.

Yando performs beautifully and convincingly as Ebenezer Scrooge, sincerely and effectively taking on the character as a part of his body, soul, and mind. In his seventh run in a row (minus a one year hiatus), Yando still commits to his character and show as a whole. The children in the cast shine as well. They really appear to have fun on the stage, and that makes all the difference with children. A large cast of 25 accurately portrays the classic tale this holiday season.

Generally, “A Christmas Carol” dazzles, minus a few technical troubles. The show provides an enriching trip through the Past, Present, and Future Christmas. A Christmas Carol runs at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre from November 15 through December 28. 

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