First things first: A play that has various anguished people and spirits (including some zombie-like children) rising from the ghoulish depths of the afterlife is not for kids aged 5 and up. More on that below.
But ... on to the merry. There might not be a better instance for theater-in-the-round than a holiday-themed production, when the audience is feeling particularly communal, festive and thankful.
There’s just something about trading in traditional stadium seating (where spectators sometimes feel far removed from the story on stage — unless you can always afford up-front seats, which my family can’t), with the coziness of a surrounded stage. (ACT's Allen Theatre is a traditional theater-in-the round or arena design, where the stage is in the center and the audience encircles it. There is no "backstage," creating an up-close experience and requiring creativity with props).
You can’t get much merrier than A Christmas Carol. ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) has been putting on this Dickens family classic for nearly four consecutive decades, and the well-oiled version has something for everyone: A script based off the Dickens original (and accompanying 19th-century London accents); joyful Christmas caroling; Victorian costuming; evocative snowfall, spooky spirits; and some heart-string-tugging schmaltziness.
Let’s go back to the spirits for a minute, though (of Christmas past, present and future and of the deceased Marley). They’re scary. Like, really scary. At least they will be for some kids. They come up out of the floor (a prop trick that, along with the multiple stage entrances bisecting the intimate seating rings, makes it all seem more real). They wail and haunt. They rattle.
But there’s good stuff for kids, too, in this spookiness. Although Dickens’ tale has traditionally been viewed as an indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism, your kids are likely to boil it down to: If you’re not nice to people, you will be haunted and lonely and quite soon possibly dead.
Or, for those who can parlay the tale into a more modern truism (with help, maybe, from the parents): Do unto others as you would like done unto yourself. A truly valuable lesson, wrapped in the pretty paper and big bow of good theatrical fun.
That is, as long as your kiddos can deal with mummy-ish children coming up out of the ground; a rather dreadfully chained-up, zombie-like Marley; and a fun but hair-curling slew of bumps in the night.
My 7-year-old daughter liked it very well and was just the right amount of spooked. (Too scary, you say? Bah, humbug!)
But my daughter's best friend hid under her coat for half the performance, and I shudder to think for how many nights hereafter she’ll be crawling into bed with her parents — sorry, guys!
So, know your kid before you go. I would say a broad age recommendation would be 7 or 8 and up, though ACT recommends it for ages 5 and older, and if you have a toughened-up young kidlet, I say why not? You know your kid best — my 5-year-old would have been too frightened.
As I mentioned before, this ACT production is well-oiled. Performance highlights include R. Hamilton Wright as Scrooge; Leslie Law as Spirit 2; Galen Joseph Osier as Bob Cratchit; Kathryn van Meter as Mrs. Fezziwig; Rob Burgess as Mr. Fezziwig; and fifth grader Anna Imehana Lilinoe Ostrem as Tiny Tim, whose pure and beaming face transmitted, as Dickens intended, the meaning of Christmas itself.
In a season of frenzied consumerism and gimme-gimme-gimme, ACT’s A Christmas Carol is a fun and heartfelt (if chain-rattling) antidote worth incorporating into your family traditions.
If you go ...
When: The production runs through December 30 in ACT's Allen Theatre. Showtimes are Tuesdays–Fridays, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays 2 and 7 p.m. and Sundays 1 and 4 p.m.
Tickets: $22–$55. Visit ACT Theatre.
Tip: Best parking is inside the Washington State Convention and Trade Center garage, which has an indoor entrance to ACT.
In between glue-stick runs and coffee binges, Natalie Singer-Velush is ParentMap’s Web Editor. In her former life she wrote for newspapers and once pumped milk in the bathroom of the King County Superior Courthouse while covering a murder trial. She was also once chased by rabid raccoons. Natalie lives in Seattle with her husband and two school-aged daughters.