Northern Stage: A Christmas Carol For This Very Moment
A Christmas Carol has opened at Northern Stage. I am always a little bah-humbug about the holiday season and mid-November seemed too early. I was wrong. It hits the post-election spot. If you are one of those who are disillusioned about where America now finds itself (or even if you aren't), this play could offer a two-hour balm for your soul. Not to mention those good tidings of the season.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Bill Kux) has never been played with more wit or more razor-like delivery. He barks. He bites. His dismissive "good afternoons" are among the iciest of lines, vying with his snide inquiries about the welfare of the poor: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" We positively salivate for his comeuppance, which begins of course with the ghost of former partner Jacob Marley (Paul West) who breaks through his portrait on the wall, chained and agonized, prophesying the impending presence of the three spirits. They arrive on schedule.
Susan Haefner returns to Northern Stage as the Spirit of Christmas Past, showing young Ebenezer as glum child and aspiring businessman, rejected by his fiancée Belle (Irene Green) as he becomes ever more enamored with money. The Spirit of Christmas Present is as jolly (Kurt Zischke) as the Spirit of Christmas Future (Eric Love) is, well, taciturn, and Darth Vader-scary when he points.
Susan Haefner as the Spirt of Christmas Past and Bill Kux as Scrooge
There are the expected and familiar Cratchits, among them Bob (Eric Bunge) trying always to keep warm and shed light, insisting to his wife's dismay that they drink to the health of yes, even Mr. Scrooge. She (Victoria Adams-Zischke), finding her husband's employer "stingy, odious," eventually relents, but barely. Act II brings the first glimpse of Tiny Tim, portrayed alternatingly by Paige Falcone and Jackson Argenti, with the signature line that never gets old: God bless us, every one.
Kudos to the set designer, David Esler, for gorgeous blue walls with inanimate, then magically animate, portraits. The costuming (Aaron Patrick DeClerk) is superb throughout, but especially of the witchy masked ghosts. Teamed with Ford Evans's choreography, they are the eeriest creatures on the stage. The lighting, music, and inventive projections combine to tell this story as eloquently as the dialogue. Each of these elements combines with the others to make this the best, the very best, production of A Christmas Carol.
It is a family-friendly (albeit scary--the claps of thunder will rattle you out of your seat) play with adult themes. A century and a half ago, Dickens had planned on writing a pamphlet about poverty; he opted for A Christmas Carol instead, thinking that art could change the world, as Northern Stage says, "one story at a time." So it seems apt that this play arrives when poverty is still with us, including this dark poverty of the soul. In this parable, Dickens' Scrooge is redeemed, and gets a chance to dispel the darkness and send his light out into the world. So must we all. I am reminded--and Dickens might have appreciated--that Hillary Clinton often quoted her Methodist mother's admonition: "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you ever can."
In the spirit of A Christmas Carol and this holiday season, I'm with her. And her mother.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 (Christmas eve) at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction VT. For times and tickets, contact Northern Stage at its website or by calling the box office at 802-296-7000. Also, this is the season to double your donations to Northern Stage through a matching funds program from the Byrne Foundation. All new donations of under $500 will be matched up to $50,000.
(All photos by Rob Strong and used with permission of Northern Stage.)
Susan B. Apel, author, ArtfulEdge