On the street below Ebenezer Scrooge's office window, a caroler belts a song of good tidings. At the same time, the penny-pincher's nephew has come to Scrooge's office to extend an invitation to dinner. Irritated, Scrooge answers this familial offer with a "Bah, humbug" denial. Then, he slams the window — shutting out not just the singer but anything to do with Christmas — in Southern Rep's recent production of A Christmas Carol.
Since A Christmas Carol's creation in the mid-19th century, Charles Dickens' work — in many forms — has been a winter favorite. Adapted by Doris Baizley, this show's format follows a play-within-a-play structure, in which a troupe struggles to put on a version of the holiday classic. As part of the troupe, three clowns (Jon Greene, Rachael Anne Pace and Joshua Smith) periodically juggle and offer slapstick-type bits. They ramp up the energy and help flesh out the show's overall framework.
The troupe's main issue in putting on a show is that the actor playing Scrooge has quit. To fill the role, the director (Mike Harkins) calls on the grumpy stage manager (John "Spud" McConnell). As Scrooge, McConnell imbues the iconic character with the iciness of a London winter. He's a booming presence as a successful businessman who hoards money. Scrooge is especially hard on his employee Bob Cratchit (Donald Lewis) and doesn't want to give him the day off to celebrate with his wife Mrs. Cratchit (Laura Friedmann) and sick son Tiny Tim (Danny Herre). While Tiny Tim may only have one line — "And, God bless us, everyone" — Herre also plays the prop boy. The young actor holds his own with this talented cast.
One reason for A Christmas Carol's long-lived popularity is Scrooge's transformation into a generous, Christmas-loving man. The change begins when the spirit of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (also played by Harkins) visits. He then encounters the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future. When the ghosts come to see Scrooge, four large wooden bedposts turn his office into his home. The set, smartly designed by David Raphel, makes good use of a tight space and allows for scenes in which the spirits take Scrooge to another place.
Dressed in a long, hooded robe, Friedmann's Ghost of Christmas Past is the most memorable of the three spirits. She plays the character with an urgency that sets up the creepiness factor of holiday ghosts. Green and Pace, wearing a single outfit, play the Ghost of Christmas Present in a quasi-comical way, which felt a contrived contrast to the serious tone. The Ghost of Christmas Present is faceless and silently stands in front of Scrooge as the former tightwad has his big moment of realization, the one everyone wants to see.
This Southern Rep production of A Christmas Carol is moving and reminds us of the importance of generosity and family bonds.