KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 17, 1999
Talk about the holiday spirit… how about four of them? That would be the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future… and old Marley, who “was dead, to begin with.” This month, you can get spirited away to the 24th incarnation of “A Christmas Carol” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. The cast of characters is all the same: mean, stingy, Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge; his chipper nephew; his poor, hard-working clerk Bob Cratchit, father of Tiny Tim; the robust former boss Mr. Fezziwig and his wife; and all the wealthy and impoverished of Victorian London, as described by Charles Dickens in 1843.
The cast of actors is pretty much the same, too — well, the same as last year, anyway — a talented group of 15 taking on some 58 roles. It’s rollicking fun, in a production directed, once again, by Sean Murray. But though there are a lot of spirits, and a good deal of spirit, there isn’t much spirituality this year.
Adaptor D.W. Jacobs seems to have tweaked the script yet again. There’s less fun in the Fezziwig bash and in the later shenanigans of the pawnmeisters, trying to hock the belongings they stripped from the old miser after his purported death. They’ve lost their humorous cronies, too. There’s much less singing, and less music from the Celtic band SilverWood, which results in a more somber tone to the proceedings. In a way, that suits the setting, the ramshackle, haunted-looking old warehouse designed by Giulio Cesare Perrone, fronted by the picture-perfect miniature Victorian village, with its tiny houses and smoking chimneys, among which Scrooge walks like Gulliver in Lilliput.
The sense of foreboding is enhanced by the dark, eerie lighting and sound, and that terrifyingly huge, shadowy Ghost of Christmas to Come. Director Murray is well aware of the fear factor of the piece.. .but it seems to have lost some of its heart along the way. I’ve been moved to tears in years past, but this production just seemed to skim along the surface, without plumbing the depths of despair leading to the ultimate salvation.
But in the midst of it all, Jonathan McMurtry just keeps getting better and better as Scrooge. This time out, he’s nastier at the outset and lighter of heart (and lighter on his feet) after his reformation and redemption. As the narrator, Douglas Roberts seems to be shouting his way through the piece, and Isaac Riddle is less charming and irresistible than Scrooge nephews of the past. Tim Irving and Myra McWethy appear less gleeful Fezziwigs than before, but Ron Choularton remains a delight as Bob Cratchit, and new addition Alex Dolan is a sweet-voiced and cherubic Tiny Tim.
There have been so many incarnations of this timeless story, at the Rep as much as anywhere. Perhaps it’s time to move on and reconceive the piece once again. It feels a bit tired this year, just one humbug! and ho-ho too many.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.