KPBS AIRDATE: December 14, 1994
The magic number is 19. It’s the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s nineteenth production of the Dickens classic, and “A Christmas Carol” has come full circle — back to the nineteenth century. After years steeped in gospel, minimalism, the homeless and every other permutation possible, the Rep called in director Will Roberson to bring the piece home, as it were. And you get a Victorian feel from the first.
Outside the theater, a young be-scarfed and be-knickered boy hawks “hot chestnuts!” — and they’re damned good, too. Inside, there’s a sense of simplicity, warmth and good cheer. Carols are being sung by the cast, and the audience is asked to join in. Music fills the theater throughout the evening, with Steve Gunderson’s delicious score providing adaptations and arrangements of well-known and lesser-known holiday tunes tied together with festive original music. The singing is wonderful. The cast blends vocally in small groups, duos and trios, full ensemble, accompanied and a cappella, mellow and harmonious.
In the middle of it all, as that miserly misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge, veteran actor Tom Lacy cavorts with glee. Sometimes veering close to the edge and sometimes hurtling headlong over the top, Lacy often goes for the guffaw. But that’s partly a function of Douglas Jacobs’ light-hearted adaptation of the symbol-laden 1843 tale of greed and salvation. Jacobs leans in for the laughs in act one, and his spirits, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, are less fearsome than informative.
This Scrooge seems more annoyed by their appearance than terrified by it, as so many other Scrooges are. But after his transformation, after he is shown what his life has been and what it could turn out to be, there is a childlike innocence and ecstasy in this Scrooge’s redemption. It’s a joy to watch, but it sends you out of the theater with a giggle, rather than a lump, in your throat. I, for one, didn’t feel that nagging it-isn’t-too-late-to-change sensation that has propelled me to give more generously to the less fortunate during the holiday season. I didn’t share in the sense of salvation.
Perhaps there was a slight lack of cohesiveness to the production, because there were multiple directorial decision-makers. The fey Marley and the drag scenes didn’t really work for me. Neither did the one intrusive dancer who kept self-consciously swirling around the stage. But the Greek chorus of narrators, especially Darla Cash and Shana Wride, worked like crazy. And here, for once in a long time, was a Tiny Tim who could really sing. Chad Lee Williamson was, as he should be, the little jewel of the piece.
Overall, the production doesn’t sparkle so much as glow. But there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a warm and welcome change. The presentation is very technically simple, almost Victorian. Ethereal at times. Spiritual. And very musical. Appropriately, the Ghost of Christmas Future is never seen; it’s just a light. Symbol of enlightenment. And isn’t what this holiday fable and this holiday season are all about?
(If you’re already seized by the spirit, bring an unwrapped toy or gift to the theater, and it will be distributed during “A Magic Christmas” benefit matinee on December 21). And don’t just feed your soul; try the chestnuts, too!
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.