A little humor with your humbug? ACT theatre's fresh spin on Dickens' Christmas Classic
Written by Kristen Dobson
View information about the 2010 production here!
I was a little nervous about taking my 8-year-old son to see ACT theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. After all, Dickens’ classic tale of greed and redemption is notoriously scary — Scrooge is horribly mean (even to children!) and he’s visited by no fewer than four ghosts. Then there’s the specter of Tiny Tim, the beloved little child with a crippled leg who may or may not die. All in all, I wondered whether my son would find the whole thing too frightening.
But humor saved the day. In this 32nd year of putting on this play, ACT keeps the story fresh, fun and interesting with delightful and unexpected twists. For one thing, Scrooge’s downtrodden victims have a backbone; they heap scorn upon him (behind his back), deliberately mispronounce his name (“screw-JUH!”), and maintain their humanity (and holiday spirit!) despite their many hardships.
David Pichette’s Scrooge is delightfully wicked, delivering his loathsome lines with relish. His Scrooge is as single-minded and conniving as they come, but still somehow sympathetic, so that Scrooge's eventual transformation is a sort of victory for the audience, too. Despite nervous giggles, my kids were pulling for Scrooge. Pichette pulls it off with a total pro’s graceful body language; the miserly old-man hunch is replaced by a free and easy old-man jig at the end. This is Pichette’s ninth year in the role — we’ll line up to see his tenth!
In fact, the whole company is first-rate, with most actors playing multiple roles (part of the fun for kids), and all clearly enjoy themselves immensely. The audience was relaxed and engaged and generous in its approval; there was a lot of laughter, especially of the scandalized sort. The action never flags, and the many children present seemed to be having a blast, although I saw more than one snuggle into a parent when the ghost of Jacob Marley — howling and cadaverous — first appeared. When I first saw this play at ACT theatre 30 years ago, I was most frightened of the ghost of Christmas future. But today’s kids, weaned on Harry Potter movies, didn’t seem to mind. Christmas future looks just like a Dementor.
Kids love ACT’s theater-in-the-round layout; it’s easy to see the action from ‘most any seat. The ingenious staging includes falling snow, props that rise up through the floor or are lowered from on high, and ghostly images of Jacob Marley. It's a very Christmassy production with lots of caroling and holiday cheer.