KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 8, 2000
Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages…. Step right up to the Scrooge and Marley Circus. You’ll see clowns and jugglers, acrobats and aerialists, a giant, a midget, a sword-swallower. And, in the center ring, you’ll thrill to the transformation of the hard-hearted, tight-fisted, whip-snapping ringmaster, Ebenezer Scrooge.
It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Circuses were big in Charles Dickens’ day. And the author, who fancied popular entertainment, was quite a showman himself. In the mid-19th century, Dickens traveled all over — including stops in the U.S. — giving dramatic readings of his most famous story. And now, 25 years after Douglas Jacobs first adapted “A Christmas Carol” for the San Diego Repertory Theatre, he has once again created alchemical wizardry. This silver anniversary production sparkles and shimmers like gold. And it harks back to Jacobs’ very first adaptation of the Christmas classic, which had a commedia dell’arte flavor. Joan Schirle, founding member of the Dell’Arte Players in northern California, is credited with the circus concept and direction. And she’s done an outstanding job. There’s more than a little magic in Dickens’ story, and there’s something undeniably magical about the circus, where people fly through the air and defy gravity and solemnity at every turn. The marriage was surprisingly felicitous.
The 20 circus performers don’t detract from the story; they unequivocally serve it. If Scrooge needs to learn about friendship, family and human interdependence, he couldn’t find a better classroom than the Big Top. The miserly circus-owner insists that his troupe perform three shows on Christmas Day. And after that, he never sleeps a wink. His midnight visitations are as enchanting as his performers. True, not every entertainer is an actor. But the visual treats are so thrilling, you forgive the weak voice or less-than-credible delivery, and just settle in to this garden of unearthly delights. First, there’s the setting. Fresh from his brilliantly inventive work on “Mummified Deer,” Giulio Cesare Perrone once again proves himself to be one of the city’s most imaginative set — and costume! — designers.
From his circus tent interior to his creakily mechanical Ghost of Christmas future, Perrone’s work is endlessly enthralling. And it’s the perfect backdrop for the talented performers, many from San Diego’s own Fern Street Circus. There’s the magnificent ribbon-twirling acrobatics of choreographer Annetta Lucero, the haunting music of violinist Dimiter Marinov, the clowning of Rich Bianco, the comic antics of Matt Walker and the heart-wrenching redemption of Mike Genovese as Scrooge. The entire endeavor is irresistible… kinda makes you want to run away and join the circus.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.