Even after 32 years, ACT Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol" is still a charming holiday diversion -- it looks great, from the bright costumes to the intimacy of the theater's in-the-round stage. Its retelling of Dickens' story of darkness and rebirth (directed by Kurt Beattie) is warm but not sentimental, and fast-paced enough to hold kids' attention. It's a traditional production: No improvisation, tap-dancing, or modern settings here.
Seán Griffin plays Scrooge as a sort of stereotypical Republican to the nth degree, who takes certain views about poverty and responsibility to their logical conclusion. Griffin's performance is nuanced and interesting to watch. Another actor to watch is Charles Leggett, whose knowing Ghost of Christmas Present laughs in delight at humanity's enjoyment of the day while sternly convicting Scrooge of his hardheartedness.
There were many small children in the audience when we attended, and here's the thing: This is not a play for small children. There's much family happiness on display, and child actors (all excellent), but the larger themes of guilt and redemption aren't going to resonate with children much younger than 8 or 9. The language spoken is an ornate Victorian English. It's witty and beautiful, but even the 10-year-old with us had trouble following it at times. And don't forget -- it's a ghost story. The arrival of Jacob Marley's ghost is eerily effective, with scowling faces projected onto hanging windows and the ringing of bells. Marley's ghost pops onstage with a shriek, and his wild hair and amplified howls so frightened the children with us (8 and 10) that we had to take one of them out for the remainder of the play.
The kids with me knew the story, but I wish I had gone over it with them one more time before attending so they could have followed the action more easily. I would have left the very sensitive child at home because the scary bits were just too intense for him. Children who aren't as sensitive will enjoy the Christmas caroling and dancing, the four very different ghostly apparitions, a streak of generous good humor that runs throughout the script, and a story that traces the causes and effects of -- and the cure for -- extreme selfishness.
"A Christmas Carol" runs through Dec. 27. ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle. Tickets are $22-$47; call 206-292-2626 or visit www.acttheatre.org to purchase.