KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 16, 1998
“Marley was dead, to begin with.” That’s the way the book starts, that’s the way the story starts, and that’s the way the holiday season has started for the past 22 years at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. Marley may be dead, but Scrooge is very much alive. For 155 years, the brilliantly miserly creation of Charles Dickens has struck fear in the hearts of thinking men and women. And when his story is well told, it brings a smile, a tear, and a new perspective, a little piece of the old man’s redemption.
This year, as last, the story is told well at the San Diego Rep. “A Christmas Carol” is once again directed by the endlessly imaginative Sean Murray. Adapter D.W. Jacobs has re-tweaked the tale, making his script more direct and clear, more clever, more serious, less silly, and a lot more enjoyable. Murray has carried over the spectacular scenic design of Giulio Cesare Perrone, a looming and ominous old warehouse of a place, fronted by picture-perfect miniature Dickensian/Victorian village, complete with little lighted houses with smoking chimneys. Trevor Norton’s eerily evocative lighting is back, as is SilverWood, the local Celtic band.
This year’s big coup was casting Jonathan McMurtry, veteran of 160 Old Globe productions, as that “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” Ebenezer Scrooge. This Scrooge starts out gratuitously nasty, the kind of guy who’d get a kick out of knocking a kid down in the street. After his ghostly visitations, and his ultimate transformation, he’s a bit less giddy, less gleeful, less nimble and spry than Scrooges who have gone before. But when he enters his nephew’s house, to beg for reconciliation, he has such a credible moment of doubt, as he turns away, expecting to be rejected, that when he is finally embraced by Fred, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
Murray has managed to mine the pathos in the piece, without giving way to sentimentality. And he extracts all the sly humor, maximizing it to great effect, and to the delight of the youngsters in the audience. And in this dark and forbidding setting, he doesn’t ignore the fear factor…. that ten-foot-tall, black, shadowy Ghost of Christmas Future is nothing short of terrifying. Perhaps the choreography could have been a bit more engaging and better executed. And maybe the dreadlocked Ghost of Christmas Present was a bit much. And the actors could have addressed each other more than the audience. But one can have few other gripes with this production; it’s touching and funny, warm and winning.
The cast is a sheer delight, especially Douglas Roberts, who was a Scrooge of Christmas past, but is far better suited to the ironic and articulate narrator; and John Carroll, always a pleasure to watch, and here, he even gets to sing, as the warm-hearted Fred and others. Karole Foreman, Ron Choularton, Tim Irving, Rosina Reynolds and Sean Robert Cox are delectable in a variety of roles. This “Christmas Carol” is a satisfying holiday treat that has the taste of a really fine fruitcake, the kind you want to keep and to share: dark and rich and sweet, even a little nutty — something you can really bite into and chew on.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.