'Tis The Season

ACT's Annual Production 'A Christmas Carol' Rings in Holiday Cheer

Photo: James Carpenter plays Scrooge, the crotchety miser who discovers the beauty of Christmas, in A.C.T.'s  production of the timeless Dickens classic 'A Christmas Carol.'
Kevin Berne/Courtesy
James Carpenter plays Scrooge, the crotchety miser who discovers the beauty of Christmas, in A.C.T.'s production of the timeless Dickens classic 'A Christmas Carol.'

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The American Conservatory Theater delivers good, reliable holiday cheer in its annual Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh adaptation of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Audiences are once again reminded to be generous, or die sad and hated.

For such an oft-performed play, ACT does a tremendous job of keeping the story entertaining while still reinforcing the tenets of Christmas spirit. James Carpenter is a splendidly multi-layered Scrooge, mean only enough to establish his stereotype and to be forced to regret his words later on. Carpenter's jabs are more sarcastic than outright cruel, more funny than shockingly crude. They're the jabs of a man long embittered by the materialistic necessities of his day, a man who-despite his British accent and talk of shillings-could easily be any of us. BW Gonzalez's Ghost of Christmas Present is just the right combination of craziness and joviality. While masquerading under the guise of orchestrating a strange troupe of foreign vegetables, her laugh has a malicious shriek that foretells future failures.

What really shined, though, was the large ensemble cast, ranging from grade-school children to veteran actors, all outfitted in adorable costumes. The redheaded Fezziwigs, however short their time on stage may be, are particularly entertaining as a warm reminder of Scrooge's past. With exaggerated steps, they make their jolly way across the floor, bathed in warm pink lights. Occasional dance numbers and outbursts of Christmas carols liven up the stage. The more actors, the merrier the scene. Christmas is all about the people, after all.

While the set doesn't extend much past a few buildings, it doesn't take away from the production on a whole. The transitions between scenes are smooth and dreamlike. In one scene, the grave (before which Scrooge mourns his eventual death) turns into a bed, and the stage mimics a fanciful live-action pop-up picture book more than a moving, emotional play. People walk casually outside of Scrooge's window while he and Bob Cratchit discuss Christmas. Fred (Scrooge's goodhearted nephew) and his friends play games around heavily ornate furniture, each couple's attire matching in color. Jacob Marley delivers possibly the deadliest ultimatum ever while standing on a bed, the green and yellow lights casting ghoulishly upon him. The Ghost of Christmas Past hangs from a childish swing against a backdrop of shimmering lights. Scrooge's childhood friends play against a backdrop of a schoolyard before him, as he remembers. The ominous fortunes of the Ghost of Christmas Future run seamlessly between the sleeves of the spirit's robe, dreaded scenes unfolding within the arms of the malevolent beast, turning the once jovial businessmen suddenly vampiric under its billowing black drapes.

"A Christmas Carol" lives up to its role as an annual harbinger of Christmas spirit. It's a festive, vibrant display of the embodiment of all that is jolly during this time of year. From lavish costumes to surprising special effects, it's anything but old and tired. Instead, "A Christmas Carol" strives to remind us of a more magical time, back when when we knew life couldn't be all about money and when we'd vow to donate our entire surplus to charity. We may have grown up, but the memory remains sweet.

Go Christmas caroling with Helen at [email protected]

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