A Christmas Carol

Mention "Scrooge" and the image of a tight-fisted, hard-hearted, bitter old man comes to mind. The name itself was slang in its day for "squeeze." Picture him in his counting house in 19th-Century industrial England, where the private money lenders control the currency and subject the economy to periodic, premeditated contractions, so that they can gobble up the assets created by others at fire sale prices.

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge
Philip Pleasants
as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Now consider that these conditions are the same today in Europe, the United States, and many other countries. ("During a depression, assets return to their rightful owners." --Andrew Mellon) Compare this to China, which is booming, where the central bank and the sovereign currency are controlled by nation itself, on behalf of its workforce.

In writing what he felt was his greatest work, Charles Dickens contrasts Jesus' teachings, to which those in power pretend to subscribe, with the actions taken by these so-called leaders and the effects of these actions on the commonwealth and the working class in particular.

Look around you and you will see Scrooges everywhere, contracting the money supply, seizing homes, and cutting off social benefits, while lining their own pockets as they serve those who own the banks, the currency (the Federal Reserve), the electronic voting machines, the media, and the corporations that benefit from wars, depressions, ignorance, want, and disease.

Dickens' gritty, cynical, coal-stained London comes alive in director Bruce K. Sevy's production of Richard Hellesen's adaptation of the classic. The most noticeable refinement in this year's creation is the subtle but powerful subtextual infusion of humor in Philip Pleasants' Scrooge. To his consistently masterful performance, the venerable Pleasants has added a dash of bluster, slight facial shadings, and short verbal arabesques to the crusty and vituperative miser.

Pleasants is one of the rarest of actors who can create the bitterest of characters and incrementally reveal to us how such a person may be redeemed. That said, tempering such a performance with humor does make it more accessible, allowing us to safely see the scrooge within ourselves that has allowed our society to reach such a sorry state of servitude to the money masters. (Today's report: Four investment banks [Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Bank of America] have about $2.986 Trillion IN CASH. That is 80% of all the cash held by the 50 largest corporations in America. Who do you think owns the Federal Reserve?)

The pageantry that surrounds Scrooge's transformation into a man who understands the meaning of Christmas is glorious, from the lovely mix of well-known and obscure carols to the rich costumes, detailed street scenes, and well-executed and tasteful special effects (the Ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, plus the lighting and sound design). Sevy's selection of singer-actors is exemplary—the voices are poignant and stirring throughout, as is the accompanying musical direction and choreography. The requiem that closes Act I reminds us that we are witnessing a sublime dramatic and spiritual message, one that we are, unfortunately, not getting from those who claim the loudest to represent such forces.

During his "dark night of the soul," Scrooge encounters three spirits who—in visits to the past, present, and future—show him how his choices have affected him and those around him, from his clerk Bob Cratchit (James Michael Reilly) and his nephew Fred (Jordan Coughtry) and their families to the streets of London and the whole world beyond.

Reilly's impassioned reflections and Coughtry's light touch, both heartfelt, provide beautiful examples through their characters of true Christian compassion, as does the translucent Renee Brna as the young Ebenezer's one-time betrothed, Belle, and as the Cratchit's eldest child, Martha.

The Fezziwigs (Michael Fitzpatrick and Linda Mugleston) light up the stage with their comic antics and infectious merriment. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Kate Hurster), Present (Larry Bull), and Future (Andy Jobe) are riveting, each in their own way: gravitas, joviality, and ominous silence. The narrative role, represented by Dickens himself in some versions, is here rotated throughout the ensemble, who bring delightful nuance and verisimilitude to the setting and make a fine chorus as well. A host of young actors do yeoman's work as the school children, street urchins, and the Cratchits.

If only Max Reinhardt were alive today, he'd perform this show en plein air, on Wall Street and in the City of London. The scrooges there could use a good morality play. We'd like to believe they still possess the iota of soul required to spark a transformation.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 26th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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