archive
links
essays

A Christmas Carol

Company
Company
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Given the inability of contemporary corporate-controlled religions to address our spiritual needs, the annual ubiquitous productions of Charles Dickens' 175-year old A Christmas Carol go a long ways toward serving as our morality plays, just as Everyman did 350 years before Dickens' masterwork.

Much like the allegorical challenges set forth in morality plays, the protagonist of this tale, Ebenezer Scrooge, is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to persuade him to choose a spiritual life over a materialistic one.

(Left to right) Michael Fitzpatrick as Subscription Gentleman, Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge, and Erick Pinnick as Subscription Gentleman
(L to R) Michael Fitzpatrick as Subscription Gentleman, Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge,
and Erick Pinnick as Subscription Gentleman
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
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 the tough love of 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."

The Denver Center Theatre Company's current production, adapted by Richard Hellesen with music by David de Berry, is one of the most beautiful renditions of this classic that you'll ever see, deftly staged by Melissa Rain Anderson, filled with poignant performances, set off by eye-popping effects (Don Darnutzer, lighting), lush costumes (Keven Copenhaver), and stunning renditions of traditional carols (Gregg Coffin, music direction & orchestration).

Sam Gregory's Scrooge is masterfully drawn, quickly establishing the iconic character's vituperative behavior that sends everyone reeling. The first opportunity to provide an inkling that there is still a glimmer of light within the darkness of Scrooge's soul occurs when his nephew, Fred (an earnest, yet astute Jim Poulos), comes to his office to spread good cheer and wish him a merry Christmas.

This scene is staged many different ways, and Gregory and Anderson put their own stamp on it by having Fred set his gift directly on Scrooge's desk, as he exits; but, before Scrooge deposits the gift in the wastepaper basket, Gregory takes a beat and stares at the wrapped item—just long enough, we surmise, to suppress some painful childhood memory—before coming back to his venomous senses.

Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge and Jeffrey Roark as the Ghost of Jacob Marley
Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
and Jeffrey Roark as the Ghost of Jacob Marley
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Later that same evening, after being frightened by the apparition of his 7-years-dead partner, Jacob Marley (Jeff Roark), Scrooge comically uses his cane to allay his fears by searching for demons under his bed and his chair, sharing with us his self talk which, as the story progresses, delineates a series of ever more powerful realizations that eventually bring about his catharsis. That these funny moments come when Scrooge is alone provides an effective means for us to accept his transition from the hardened, steely public Scrooge to his increasingly honest private self that he voices during his epic dream journey on Christmas eve. Roark's scary and imposing Marley—arriving with a blast that rocks the theatre, rattling his chains for timely emphasis, and departing hounded by demons—catches Scrooge's attention in a big way, furthering the cause of Scrooge's self-examination.

Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge and Latoya Cameron as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
and Latoya Cameron as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Of course, not long after Marley exits, Scrooge reverts to his old habits, assuring himself that all of this could be due to some form of indigestion. However, his incredulity quickly dissipates when the Ghost of Christmas Past (a regal Latoya Cameron) arrives in a shower of light and takes him on a journey back to his childhood and young adulthood.

Scrooge's heart is pried open by revisiting the one bright light of his lonely childhood, his sister, Fan (Helen Reichart, who arrives with a sweet, angelic ballad). Ebenezer the Child's greatest pleasure is in his books, which Gregory recounts with glee, extolling the virtues of Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe (with an hilarious impersonation of the parrot). We are then treated to one of the most fun Christmas parties you're ever likely to attend, hosted by Fezziwig (Michael Fitzpatrick), for whom Ebenezer the Young Man (Poulos) works, and Mrs. Fezziwig (Leslie O'Carroll). As always, Fitzpatrick lights up the house with merriment, mischief, and a surfeit of beer, while O'Carroll's hilarious aria and antics provide the topper.

Jim Poulos as Ebenezer the Young Man, Hanley Smith as Belle, and Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
Jim Poulos as Ebenezer the Young Man,
Hanley Smith as Belle,
and Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
A key moment in the festivities is Ebenezer the Young Man proposing to Belle (a luminous Hanley Smith). As the Ghost of Christmas Past proceeds through the years, we later find Belle and a well-situated-in-business Ebenzer in a very candid moment. Smith's stellar monologue here, explaining to her fiancé that he has replaced her with a golden idol, is Dickens at his most translucent. Much to Scrooge's dismay, his younger self accepts the engagement ring back from Belle. In Poulos' Ebenezer, we see an early iteration of the cold-heartedness that becomes so markéd in the older Scrooge when we first meet him.

After intermission, we find Scrooge once again under the illusion that he has woken up, confused again regarding how much time has past. All that is quickly put aside when the jovial Ghost of Christmas Present (Erick Pinnick) arrives in all his glory (accompanied by yet another beautiful carol), in the form of who we presently identify as Santa Claus, but one much more aligned with the traditional Austrian and German Christmas gift-bearing Christkindl (Christ child), in terms of his expressed point-of-view. As with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present repeats Scrooge's own words back to him, reminding the old man that he bears personal responsibility for much of what he is now finding objectionable.

The Crachits Christmas dinner
The Crachits' Christmas dinner
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Whisked away by the ghost, Scrooge observes a series of scenes that alternate between his nephew Fred's Christmas party and the Cratchet's Christmas dinner conversations, both of which end up focusing on him. After having declared to the Ghost of Christmas Past how Fezziwig had the power to make each week a pleasure or a pain, Scrooge begins to see that now he holds the same power over those with whom he interacts. Additionally, Dickens, ever the social reformer, speaks through Martha Cratchit (Kyra Lindsay), Scrooge's clerk's daughter, regarding working conditions in the garment industry—12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Lindsay's mix of poignancy and temerity is sublime.

Lucas Turner as Tiny Tim and Brian Vaughn as Bob Cratchit
Lucas Turner as Tiny Tim and
Brian Vaughn as Bob Cratchit
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Dickens also provides us with a fine example of what he considers Christian behavior, in the form of Bob Cratchit (Brian Vaughn). Vaughn's heartfelt sentiments and mild disposition, when the family is gathered for Christmas dinner and in the alternate future scene, when Tiny Tim dies without Scrooge's intervention, are transcendent moments, beautifully and humbly delivered. It is up to Mrs. Cratchit (Cameron) to give Scrooge a piece of her mind (though she does not know he is observing this spectral scene). Dickens arms her with some strong medicine, and Cameron provides the gravity and strength to make it stick.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Erick Pinnick) confronts Scrooge with Ignorance and Want
The Ghost of Christmas Present (Erick Pinnick)
confronts Scrooge with Ignorance and Want
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
The scene at Fred's gathering is much lighter, and funny in tone, but the jokes are still at the expense of Scrooge, on whom the zingers are not lost.

Before the Ghost of Christmas Present gives way to the future, he confronts Scrooge with Ignorance and Want, children that are the legacy of Scrooge's actions, as the ghost reminds him by quoting Scrooge's earlier comments to the Subscription Gentlemen regarding "reducing the surplus population" and "Are there no workhouses?"

Darrell T. Joe as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
Darrell T. Joe as
the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
and Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Ominous electronic bass tones portend the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Darrell T. Joe) from the shadows, sending shivers down Scrooge's spine, and filling the theatre with a sense of dread, as Scrooge is forced to hear the disregard with which his financial counterparts treat his death, after which Scrooge receives even greater disrepect from the local thieves who have raided his residence. The kicker is a gravestone with Scrooge's name on it, which precipitates Scrooge's full commitment to a new life, before he is whirled back to his bed. Moments later, he awakens "re-christened," and makes good on his promises, with Gregory exulting in the delivery of a stream of good tidings and generous deeds.

"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

"He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"

Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge and Samuel Bird as Boy in the Street
Sam Gregory as Ebenezer Scrooge
and Samuel Bird as Boy in the Street
on Christmas morning
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24th. For tickets: denvercenter.org/tickets.

Bob Bows



  Current Reviews | Home | Webmaster