Ready for the holidays? Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol is just the event to get into the festive spirit. Based on Charles Dickens' well-known classic story, Henry Wishcamper directs this year's annual production that is great for all ages. Despite its thirty-six years running, the play will not fail to disappoint, surprise and excite even the most demanding returning viewers.
The holiday season kicks off with sonorous church bells, flickering candles and bright red presents as the audience faces Scrooge's (Larry Yando) narrow office, sitting in the center of the stage. It is worthwhile to note that while the space on either end of this structure is seldom used in the scene, it creates a narrow-minded universe that compliments the mood of the ongoing action: Scrooge sits at his wooden desk absorbed in his monetary documents, neglecting the very spirit of Christmas with his exasperated "Bah, Humbugs!" These well-known outbursts, although repeated several times throughout, seem to never lose their charm. Along with the dim lighting in the initial scene, emphasizing the lack of light in Scrooge’s life, and the wiry staircase leading to Scrooge’s mess upstairs, the play appears to be off to a gloomy start. However, as Scrooge journeys home to his apartment, the stage lights up with a ghastly green when Marley appears on Scrooge's doorknocker, suggesting that things may soon change. The play continues with many surprises, the most notable being Marley's (Joe Foust) appearance from the painting hanging in Scrooge's apartment that clouds to obscurity as Marley pops out from it. The scene does not fall short of special effects either, illuminating again with Marley's signature green light after Scrooge's bed delightfully levitates upward. It is an exhilarating contrast to Scrooge's lopsided apartment and its conical ceiling that cleverly points to the grotesque qualities in Scrooge's own life.
As Marley vanishes, a source of sunlight seeps through the roof, and the ensuing flashing lights again demonstrate a masterful use of lighting to convey the mood of the play. Upon her appearance in a gleaming, snowy dress, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Elizabeth Ledo) takes the audience to Scrooge's own childhood, and later to his adolescence in which he attends the famous Fezziwig party. The gathering of the guests could perhaps not have been better executed, and everything from the adorable, prancing children and the virtuosic violinist furthers the holiday spirit. Scrooge's office returns for this scene, but is now decorated with holiday wreaths; upstairs, furthermore, the set does not show any signs of Scrooge's messy habits. It is sweet to remember that Scrooge was once a different man in the past, and the appearance of his girlfriend Belle (Atra Asdou), sporting a plain, blue dress, reminds the audience of this fact. Another notable contrast is that the entire stage is now in use. Scrooge, it seems, has not always been as narrow-minded as the audience would expect someone of such cynical character to be.
The surprises continue as the second act opens with a stage full of glitter and presents. The Ghost of Christmas Present (A.C. Smith), in his Santa-Claus-like robe, sets a smile on young children's faces. Lights in this scene are now red and green; it seems that the Christmas spirit increases as the play progresses. The ensuing starry background creates an ominous atmosphere appropriate for the appearance of the final Ghost, who comes on with a shocking boom. Suspense onstage increases, but the climax, however, lacked the shock that I had been expecting: the appearance of Scrooge's tombstone seemed somewhat underwhelming, the greatest contradiction the surprising elements throughout.
Despite that, the play continues to amaze with the connection that Scrooge and Fred (Anish Jethmalani) establish at its very end, warmly enacted on the actros’ parts. Tiny Tim's precocious acting skills will also take the audience by surprise, for they are brilliant enough to further summon Christmas spirit, which cannot exist amongst the audience if the actors do not enjoy themselves as well. The scene where Scrooge hands Bob Cratchit (Ron Rains) his silver candles was perhaps the highlight of the whole production, sending a wave of "Awws" through the audience. Although every actor in the play did their part to entertain, the one bothersome actress was the narrator coming up throughout, whose drawn out words and dramatic hand gestures may have been appealing to a younger audience, but did not come off as greatly professional. That being said, with its yearly surprises, A Christmas Carol is a play powerful enough to merit an annual visit, especially for those seeking to rid themselves of the humbugs dwelling in their lives.