Produced by: American Conservatory Theater
Featuring: James Carpenter as Ebenezer Scrooge, Ken Ruta as the Ghost of Jacob, Nicholas Pelczar as Bob Cratchit, Delia Mac Dougall as Anne Cratchit, Jarion Monroe and Sharon Lockwood as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, BW Gonzalez as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Cindy Goldfield, Howard Swain and more.
Directed by: Domenique Lozano, based on the original direction by Carey Perloff
Music by: Karl Lundeberg
Choreography by: Val Caniparoli
When: December 5-28, 2014
Where: A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, California
Tickets: $20–$110 (discounts available). Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org
'A Christmas Carol' at A.C.T.
The rise of the 1 percent, the Occupy Movement and the Great Recession once again brought to mind the issue of income inequality the haves, the have yachts, and the have nots.
I say once again, because this is a perennial theme, but one given no better treatment than in Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol." And this production by American Conservatory Theater does a great job of bringing out the many sides of each of Dickens’ characters.
"A Christmas Carol" is essentially a story of death and rebirth, of sin and redemption. Dickens himself suffered as a child, having been plucked out of school and sent to work in a factory at the age of 11. when his father was sent to debtor’s prison. The poor had multiplied in the cities after the industrial revolution, and the factory owners exploited them mercilessly, growing fat and rich at their expense.
Ebenezer Scrooge is played here by James Carpenter, looking like a crabby Willie Nelson in need of some, err, relaxation. He is some kind of accountant, working with money and ledgers, and his assistant is the affable Bob Cratchit, played by Nicholas Pelczar. It’s Christmas Eve, and Cratchit is anxious to get home to his family. But one more lump of coal on the fire? A waste. Leave a minute before the clock strikes 7 p.m.? Not in this office. And when the people come round asking for charity for the poor, Scrooge’s reply is merely to ask "Are there no prisons? Are the workhouses no longer in operation?"
Carpenter plays Scrooge’s miserliness with confidence and authority. He shows no pangs of conscience, no qualms about working Cratchit to the bone. But this night will soften his heart and loosen the grip that greed and selfishness have over his life. Even the scenery, by Tony award-winning designer John Arnone, seems to foreshadow the onset of some ghostly happenings.
A.C.T. does not disappoint. Back home and apparently safe, Scrooge’s deceased partner Jacob Marley eerily rises from Scrooge’s bed, fettered by the chains "of what he should have done." Ken Ruta plays Marley, and between his ominous voice and Nancy Schertler’s excellent lighting, we know for sure we are in some kind of dream state. The Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Domenique Salerno, takes Scrooge back to a happier time. "Figs, chocolate and cinnamon sticks" seem to be the goodies of the day, and Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, played by Jarion Monroe and Sharon Lockwood, show that you can be successful and still distribute some of your bounty to the workers that helped you get there. Monroe’s Fezziwig is as jovial as they come, and we see Scrooge gradually learning.
Next the Ghost of Christmas Present, played by BW Gonzalez, takes us to the Cratchit family, where Bob Cratchit happily offers a toast to his "benefactor" Mr Scrooge, though Mrs. Cratchit (Delia Mac Dougall) does not feel quite so generous. From his vantage point, Scrooge notes that the goose she has prepared for the large family is rather small, and the spirit informs him that Tiny Tim will not survive to another Christmas if something doesn’t change. The young A.C.T. actors in the family certainly deserve Equity cards.
The arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Future, taking up the full height of the stage area, scared the bejesus out of me. Simply done, but extremely effective. We see an empty seat at the table where Tiny Tim used to sit. "Is this what will be, or what may be?" asks Scrooge, and a visit to his own deserted grave completes the ghostly trilogy. Returned to his waking state on the actual Christmas Day, he is a changed man and starts giving away money and largesse, not least to the family of his employee Bob Cratchit. His redemption is complete, and he has learned well from his ghostly visitors that time and money can quickly slip through one’s fingers, and thus should be spent wisely.
"A Christmas Carol" has never been out of print since its publication, and though there have been many productions, and a memorable 1951 movie starring the English actor Alistair Sim, A.C.T.’s production must rank up there with the best of them. I was transported back to 19th century England and enthralled by the quality of the actors, from the youngest to the oldest. Get out of the rain and put a Christmas light in your heart with this excellent production.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org