A Christmas Carol
It is a testament to Charles Dickens that his beloved 174-year old novella continues to become more relevant with every passing day. Like Orwell, Dickens' fiction is drawn from what he observed taking place around him in London and its environs. In the great social reformer's original book, Ebenezer Scrooge is a usurer operating in the City of London, which was then, as it is now: a privately controlled bastion with its own police force, operating inside of England's capital city.
While Scrooge is generally remembered for his despicable comments—"If they (the poor) would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."—we tend to forget that four ghosts bring about a series of epiphanies that transform the once dastardly, cold-hearted banker into a man who "knew how to keep Christmas well."
|Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge,|
confronting his mortality
Given how effective these ghosts are in turning Scrooge from the antagonist to the protagonist in this story, we would do well to emulate these spectres in effecting change with the group of bankers and their marionette politicians in Washington, D.C., who, as we see with their current budget crimes-against-humanity, are spiritually damaged just like Scrooge.
This year's Denver Center Theatre Company production once again employs the stellar adaptation by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry. If anyone doubts that A Christmas Carol is the premier Modern English morality play, in the manner of the Middle English classic, Everyman, the angelic carols sung throughout this production will quickly put that notion to rest, particularly solos by Christine Rowan (Street Singer), Helen Reichert (Fan), and Grace Morgan (Belle).
|Michael Fitzpatrick as Fezziwig and|
Leslie O'Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig:
Always one of the comedic and joyful highlights
And then there is the message, through which Dickens resurrects the meaning of Christian salvation, by tying it to the effects of private control over money creation, just as Jesus did by taking a whip and driving the money changers from the temple, and calling them "Thieves!", in 33 AD, when every member of the Roman Senate was a usurer.1
Seriously, when Scrooge knocks over the beggar boy's cup with his cane and steals the coins, isn't this exactly what just happened in the US Congress, with the destruction of the social safety net for the poor and the transfer of these monies to the 1% in the form of tax breaks? It's an understatement to call those in power and their minions devolved. To use a religious metaphor, they are the whores of mammon.
|(L to R) Brian Vaughn as Bob Cratchit and|
Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
Dickens is relentless. Sam Gregory, as Scrooge, is as nasty as they come, as he admonishes the Subscription Gentlemen seeking donations for the destitute, scorns his nephew, Fred (Jim Poulos), for making merry, and upbraids his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Brian Vaughn), for taking one day (Christmas) off a year.
It is Christmas Eve, the night Scrooge's partner, Jacob Marley (Jeffrey Roark), died, seven years earlier. When Scrooge returns home from work, the knocker on his door suddenly turns into Marley's face—a premonition of things to come. Scrooge does not believe in spirits and convinces himself that the fleeting image is not real; but, when Marley's mouldy ghost appears in his quarters, Scrooge's excuses evaporate from the sheer power of his ex-partner's tortured presence, wrapped in heavy chains, and Marley's message, about his eternal punishment for ignoring the needs and suffering of his fellow humans. Roark is haunting during this encounter, banging his chains and bellowing with his rich voice.
|Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge,|
moments before the Ghost of Jacob Marley appears
As Marley is dragged back into his hell hole, demons swirl about Scrooge, yet he quickly returns to his ingrained persona, doubting that Marley's declaration of three additional ghostly visitors will come true; but, Scrooge's doubts are rekindled when the Ghost of Christmas Past (a regal Latoya Cameron) shows up in a burst of light and transports him into his past.
Up to this point, Scrooge is still clinging to his old self, although the show's new director, Melissa Rain Anderson, has dialed up the comedic moments in Gregory's portrayal. This is disconcerting, given that Gregory's Scrooge gave us no hint of this facet of himself, or for that matter even the most fleeting glimpse of an inner child, as is usually the indicator, in the entire sequence at his counting house, with the Subscription Gentlemen, Bob Cratchit, and Fred—even at the end of that scene, where circumstances create an opening for such a window into his inner self.
This raises the question of the nature of Scrooge's suffering. Clearly, his disease is of a spiritual nature. It goes beyond materialism, since he does not spend money on himself; it goes beyond greed, as well, since it is covetousness that drives him to steal. If anything, his behavior appears sociopathic, since he is devoid of morality; that is, when we meet him, he is amoral.
The upshot of Anderson's approach is that Scrooge stops vascillating and transforms too early, so the build-up to his conversion loses some drama, even if there are, perhaps, more laughs; nevertheless, the rest of the production is as poignant as ever, and Gregory carries us throughout. Vaughn's Bob Cratchitt is a beautiful soul who delivers one of Dickens' most masterful homilies from a future where his family is gathered for dinner without Tiny Tim. Poulos brings warmth and dignity to Fred, who, like Cratchit, represents an embodiment of the spirit of Christmas and of Christian virtue, as it was voiced by Jesus, not as it is presently promulgated by most churches and "practitioners." As George Bernard Shaw once said, "Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it."
At the end of Scrooge's journey through the past, he is shown the arc of his relationship, as a young man, with Belle (the luminous Grace Morgan), who delivers another of Dickens' fine monologues, in which she tells Ebenezer of his changed nature, from when she met him to who he is now, having replaced his love for her with "a golden idol." What happens next is the turning point in Young Ebenezer's life, where he chooses to accept Belle's termination of their engagement and her return of the ring that he gave her—much to the torment of the elder Scrooge, as he watches these spectral images. Appropriately, this is the end of the first act.
We have now seen Scrooge's heartache as a boy (his loneliness and the loss of his sister, Fan) and as a young man. The second act, like the first, begins with another stunning carol, and then, when the Ghost of Christmas Present (Erick Pinnick) shows up, we begin to see the effects that Scrooge's behavior has on others. Pinnick's grand personality captures all the best qualities that we attribute to Saint Nicholas and Kris Kringle, who embody the teachings of Jesus. This is where Dickens criticizes those (including the churches) who misrepresent these teachings, for their own gain.
as the Ghost of Christmas Present
During this visitation, the stage is split—between the Cratchit family and a Yuletide party thrown by Fred and his Wife, for their friends—with the action alternating a few times, culminating in Scrooge observing what other people think of him, with the biggest blows delivered by Fred's Wife (Morgan) and Mrs. Cratchet (Latoya Cameron). Since Scrooge's armor has been softened up by a barrage of painful memories, these criticisms penetrate his psychological defense mechanisms and hit home, forcing him further into self-examination, as he considers how the 99% live, and that they have happiness, despite their poverty. Both actresses are incandescent, as they voice their criticisms of Scrooge. The final blow in this sequence is the Ghost of Christmas Present laying the issues of Ignorance and Want at Scrooge's feet, which is a key point, if you consider the disingenuousness of current Beltway mouthpieces, who accuse the poor of being lazy while they vote for measures that choke the money supply and create the conditions for joblessness, foreclosures, and bankruptcy. This bold accusation by Dickens sets up a transition to the final ghost.
|(L to R) Fred's Wife (Grace Morgan), Fred (Jim Poulous),|
Tiny Tim (Peyton Goossen), Bob Cratchit (Brian Vaughn),
and Mrs. Cratchit (Latoya Cameron)
During the appearance of the intimidating and silent Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Darrell T. Joe), Scrooge is shown the future consequences of his actions—which boil down to the absence of regard that his so-called colleagues and the common neighborhood thieves have for him when he dies, as well as his complicity in Tiny Tim's death—if his actions in the present do not change. As a result, Scrooge cowers and repents before the gigantic and faceless presence of the ghost, before he returns to his bed and awakens, both physically and spiritually, and declares, "I don't know anything. I'm quite a baby!"
|Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge,|
awakening on Christmas Day
And there it is! In a quick-paced two hours, four ghosts perform a spiritual healing and rebirth, unknotting Scrooge's heart and repairing his inner child. The ritual and drama of this morality play never tires. "God bless us every one (and especially Charles Dickens)!"
The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24th. For tickets: denvercenter.org/shows.
1 Observations on: I. The Answer of M L’Abbé de Vertot to the late Earl Stanhope’s Inquiry concerning the Senate of Ancient Rome, dated December 1719; II. A Dissertation upon the Constitution of the Roman Senate, by a Gentleman, published in 1743; III. A Treatise on the Roman Senate, by Dr. Conyers Middleton, published in 1747; IV. An Essay on the Roman Senate, by Dr. Thomas Chapman, published in 1750; by Mr. Hooke, published in 1758, specifically "Observations of Dr. Middleton’s Treatise and Dr. Chapman’s Essay on the Roman Senate," p. 189.