KPBS AIRDATE: December 11, 1996
Well, the holidays are officially upon us. You can hear it in shopping malls, taste it in restaurants… and see it onstage. The San Diego Repertory Theatre rolls out its 21st presentation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” But it had some tough acts to follow: its own impeccable 1995 production, and the La Jolla Playhouse repeat presentation of Patrick Stewart’s one-man re-creation of the entire cast of the 1843 holiday fable. Stewart, better known as Star Trek’s Capt. Picard, has been affiliated with the Royal Shakespeare Company for thirty years. It shows. The storytelling and the surprisingly lyrical text are what he focuses on in his tour-de-force. It’s what Dickens’ own performances and readings of the work must have been like — full of sound and fury and joy and redemption. A little over-the-top at times, but meaningful and soulful, and still potently carrying its messages of social reform. Though he originally wrote it to make money, Dickens claimed that he laughed and cried over this story as he had over no other. That sense of laughter and tears, terror and transformation, was captured magnificently by Stewart.
The San Diego Rep’s production focuses more on the fun and laughter. It’s filled with music, a wonderful Christmas conglomeration composed by Steve Gunderson, who’s currently singing his heart out, probably forever, as a Plaid in Old Town. But the cuteness here overrides everything else. These are caricatures more than characters, and though we feel the giddiness at the redemptive conclusion, we miss the soul of the transformation. Douglas Jacobs’ script is fine; director Javier Velasco has underscored the concept but missed the point. There is less choreography, more aimless movement, and far less heart in this production than last year’s. But the costumes and singing are superb, and there are standout performances by Melinda Gilb and James Newcomb in all their believable incarnations; Shana Wride as Mrs. Cratchit; Paul James Kruse as Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present; Duane Daniels as Old Joe, and Shaun Marie Levin as the maid. Douglas Roberts is an acceptable Scrooge, not an unforgettable one. But the kids will probably love the show.
If you’re looking for some other dramatic things to do this holiday season, check out a pastorela, a Latino retelling of the Christmas story. Try Teatro Máscara Mágica’s “La Pastorela Navidena,” at the Lyceum Theatre, replete with the Macarena; or a more traditional “Pastorela” at Centro Cultural de la Raza. Or, for even more cultural diversity, how about the San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre’s production of a Japanese fairy tale, “One Inch Fellow,” at Ensemble Arts Theatre. Diversionary Theatre reprises last year’s Christmas comedy, “Our Gay Apparel.” And as usual, Lamb’s Players present a holiday triple-header: “Festival of Christmas,” “An American Christmas,” and the San Diego musical premiere of the O. Henry classic, “The Gifts of the Magi.”
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.