KPBS AIRDATE: December 12, 1991
Forget the huge, festive tree with the bright presents underneath. Forget the velvety Victorian costumes. This is Sledgehammer’s take on “A Christmas Carol,” so nothing will be anything like what you’d expect. There are yard-high hats and loincloths, dancing food and a giant clock with no numbers that glides above the stage. Instead of a Christmas tree, a stark, white, unfinished wood and canvas set. Instead of gaily-colored presents, a few string-wrapped cardboard boxes appear for Scrooge to open, as preview of ghosts to come.
Guest director Scott Feldsher, Sledgehammer’s artistic director, is obviously having fun at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. But not everyone is in on the jokes. It’s clever all right; there are lively, creative moments, but, as is not uncommon for Feldsher, his work ranges far from the source, and the messages tend to get muddied. There’s plenty of message in the story: about renewal, repentance and redemption, about being kind to the children and to the poor. Some Dickens readers have protested that the original is, in fact, too sentimental. Here, we lose not only the sentimentality, but also much of the sentiment.
Billed as a ghost story, there’s nothing particularly scary — for children or adults in the audience, or even for Scrooge himself. And although Jonathan McMurtry’s Scrooge undergoes an amazingly giddy transformation, we somehow manage to remain unmoved.
The events unfold — or tumble out at us, to be more precise — and we feel more barraged than affected.
The newly adapted script, written by the San Diego Rep’s artistic director, Doug Jacobs, is true to Dickens, if a bit wordy. The set — the Sledgehammer creation of Robert Brill — is not very engaging, though it makes an interesting statement with its onstage jury box, where the actors function as a kind of Greek chorus; Scrooge is, after all, on trial, and if we can identify with him, so are we all.
But there’s also a lot of other stuff to deal with: an offstage trunk, bed and miniature village, a large ladder on wheels, scrims and sliding doors. Well, you get the cluttered picture. The costumes are also eclectic and busy, and the choreography is variable. But the lighting is nice. And the singing is quite pleasant, with little Edward Mout as a particularly sweet-voiced Tiny Tim.
When I first heard that Scott Feldsher was directing “A Christmas Carol,” I got a little nervous. He’s known for his dramatic infusions of sex and violence. Well, you can relax. Both transgressions only make cameo appearances here: A child gets shoved aggressively off the stage by an angry Scrooge, and there’s this dancing banana that’s more than a trifle, um, shall we say, suggestive? But that’s another story, for another Christmas.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.