With its effective staging and good performances, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Denis McCourt for The Long Beach Shakespeare Company, makes the case that the sentiments of a Victorian Christmas ought not be confined to the month of December.
Wisely casting Simon James as the lead character, McCourt nicely set up the tale as a series of Scrooge’s actions to and reactions against the world around him. James isn’t the usual spindly, Don Quixote-esque character but well-fed and robust, which made his plight even more sad: all the money in the world couldn’t buy him a lick of happiness. James downplayed Scrooge’s trademark “Bah humbugs,” choosing instead to orate like a Roman Senator with indigestion. He moved with certainty across the stage, certain in his ill-will. He looked like he belonged in his dreary, cold office and, at least until the Ghosts came, in his equally dreary bedroom. While Cratchit (David Tolemy), Fred (Mark Schroeder), the carolers, and the mendicants were happy and joyous, James’ Scrooge was rancorous and dismissive. While the various Ghosts (Marley – David Fox-Brenton, Christmas Past – Linda Slate, and Present – Robert Craig) were omnipotent (omnipotent because they revealed the truth to Scrooge), James’ Scrooge was scared, timid, and, ultimately, repentent. At the end, when a chastened Scrooge rejoined the human race, the oppositions vanished, and he contributed the formidable ebullience of his youth to the celebration of the present season.
The staging contributed in no small part to the success of the production. The stage was narrow, the seats were up against the lip of the stage. At any one time there were up to forty people on stage at one time, which made those scenes feel like a Christmas shopping excursion at the mall. The voices projected, the amplification of the ghosts worked well, and we could hear what was going on. This fishbowl experience also gave us the chance to examine the animated facial expressions of the characters (especially those of the Young Ensemble), Scrooge’s magnificent sideburns, and the various smiles, frowns, and expressions of despair and joy. The presence of the Carolers, right in front of us, enchanced the urban experience. As a result, we identified with the happiness, shied away from the glumness, and rejoiced at the end when everything and everyone came together.
With urgency and timeliness, this production places the season’s virtues right in our face. It shows that these lessons are primal and, thus, ever-relevant. A leopard can change its spots; there’s a tradeoff between serving Mammon or God; it’s good to show kindness towards strangers, to share warmth and love with family and friends, and to make do with what one has. But, just as it’s said that youth is wasted on the young, why is “A Christmas Carol” wasted on the month of December?
Performances are 8 PM, Wed. – Sun., 3 PM, Sat & Sun. The show runs until Dec. 19. Tickets are $10 - $20. The Theatre is located at 4321 Atlantic Ave. For more info call 447-1494 or visit www.lbshakespeare.com.