“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. Mind! I don't mean to say that, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
Kareem Bandealy as The Narrator enters on to the stage – his opening lines the same as those above, and the same words that appear at the start of Charles Dickens’ original novel. Bandealy highlights the subtle and dark humor with spot-on comedic timing, and the scene, though simple, appropriately sets the audience up for the story that is about to unfold.
Goodman Theatre Celebrates 40th Anniversary of A Christmas Carol
Adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, Charles Dickens’ famous classic follows the cynical Ebeneezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) as he experiences the most eventful holiday of his life. On this Christmas Eve, he is first visited by the ghost of his dead business partner Jacob Marley (Joe Foust), who warns Scrooge that three more spirits will come to him over the course of the night – Ghost of Christmas Past (Molly Brennan), Ghost of Christmas Present (Lisa Gaye Dixon), and Ghost of Christmas Future (Breon Arzell). Over the course of the evening, Scrooge is forced to confront the selfish choices he has made from childhood leading up to the present moment, and how they will lead to his lonely, and dark future unless he decides to make a drastic change to his lifestyle.
In addition, this particular production is celebrating 40 years of success at the Goodman, and incorporated a special surprise for the Opening Night curtain call. Over 40 alumni artists – including directors and previous Scrooges, joined this season’s company for one big ensemble bow. Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol has performed for more than 1.5 million people, and welcomed 10 directors, eight Ebenezer Scrooges, and 29 Tiny Tims into the giant ensemble history. The theatre certainly has reason to celebrate, and based on the roar of applause and cheers that followed the giant curtain call, it seems that the audience agrees.
Creamer’s adaptation embraces both Dickens’ dark and snarky humor, as well as the joy that comes with the holiday season. Especially when combined with Wishcamper’s epic production, full of magic, gorgeous design, and some lively on-stage music, the audience is certainly in for the perfect Christmas treat.
Charles Dickens’ classic story is meant to act as a warning to those who are too selfish, and invites his readers to reflect upon their own choices as they approach the holiday season. In addition however, Dickens is manipulative with his work, and as with many of his other novels, there lies a political agenda. A Christmas Carol also offers a commentary on the factory system, and the harsh work conditions placed upon children through the characters Want and Ignorance, that appear with the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost warns Scrooge that if he does not change his ways, the conditions will only worsen, and children will continue to suffer. Dickens utilizes them as tools to invite Scrooge to understand the need to help his community, but also as reminders to his readers that there is work to be done.
Creamer includes this interaction in his adaptation, and in collaboration with Wishcamper, the haunting moment becomes one of the more powerful scenes in the play. Dixon wears a large red cape that opens to reveal the Want (Maggie Chong) and Ignorance (Aaron Stone) – whose faces are barely noticeable under the smoke and grime. The stage is bare except for these characters whose images are blurry beneath the fog. The magical elements of the design that are so clear in other scenes are absent, leaving the audience to sit in the darkness. Scrooge’s cynical and stoic exterior begins to break, and Yando plays the heartbreaking emotion beautifully.
Helmed by Wishcamper, the artistic team brings this Christmas tale to stunning life – welcoming the audience into a world full of wonder. Dickens’ story follows a man’s adventure of time travel, and the design elements hint at that magical storytelling.
Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal embraces an almost animated feel in his designs, which adds to the overall aesthetic. Structures like Scrooge’s home look as if they come right out of a Christmas picture book, and the various backdrops – ranging from snowy forests to a starry night, push that enchanted image over the top.
One particularly striking moment falls in Act Two with the Ghost of Christmas Present (Lisa Gaye Dixon). Costume Designer Heidi Sue McMath outdoes herself with the ghost’s over-the-top red gown that flows with Dixon’s every movement. The ghost brings Scrooge into a street scene outside his home, helping him see the world of poverty that has always surrounded him. The characters remain frozen except for Dixon and Scrooge. Dixon carries a small black bag of glitter, and with a swish of her hand, glitter flies into the air, and she animates each individual scene. Children begin to run, street vendors start to sell their wares, and Scrooge is forced to focus on each individual interaction.
With the final swish of her hand, Dixon throws a handful of glitter into the air, creating the image of snow. As it falls, the background immediately shifts from darkness to a starry night, and a foggy cloud fills the stage. The product is stunning, and adds to the overall wonder.
With a cast of 27 actors, A Christmas Carol would be nothing without a strong ensemble, and this group of performers certainly rises to the occasion.
Bob Cratchit (Ron E. Rains) showcases excellent comedic timing – particularly in the opening moments of silence the play as he tries to be as little of a nuisance as possible as Scrooge’s assistant. Paris Strickland is the first female to ever play Tiny Tim Cratchit in the Goodman Christmas Carol, and she is adorable. Jonah D. Winston and Penelope Walker as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig are absolute delights, and exhibit a fun stage chemistry. Kareem Bandealy as the Narrator adds the perfect amount of snark to Dickens’ dark humor.
The three ghosts – Past, Present, and Future, are vastly different, but bring their own creative spins to the roles that drive so much of the story. Molly Brennan as Ghost of Christmas Past masters the balance between a youthful fun and the deadly serious, and the choice to float Brennan about the space helps emphasize that feel. Dixon’s Ghost of Christmas Present is a riot, and if the roar of applause that erupted in the theater upon her first entrance is any indication, the audience was thrilled to see her return for a third season in the same role.
Finally, Arzell’s Ghost of Christmas Future is simple, yet frightening. Arzell – covered in black robes and on stilts, looms over the stage, emphasizing the sharp contrast between him and the other two ghosts. If Scrooge fails to listen to their warnings, the future will set, and Arzell’s Ghost of Christmas Future appropriately brings that element to life.
Larry Yando has reached his 10th year as Scrooge, and he certainly does not disappoint. The character of Scrooge travels a challenging emotional journey, from reliving lost love to witnessing the hardships of the Cratchit household, and Yando brings this to life beautifully. Especially in the harsh moments of Scrooge’s past that start to explain the current state of the negative, cynical businessman, Yando expresses a lovely sense of honesty that truly helps the audience root for his redemption.
Magical design and a brilliant ensemble make the 40th anniversary of A Christmas Carol a must-see for this holiday season.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Through December 31, 2017
Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm and 6:30pm
Run Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with intermission.
** And on Saturday, December 30 at 2:00pm, Goodman Theatre will hold its first-ever sensory friendly/relaxed performance in conjunction with the 40th Anniversary of A Christmas Carol.
170 N. Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60601
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.