The Guthrie Theater A Christmas Carol
Scratch that: It really hasn't changed at all.
The same script, director, staging and nearly the entire cast from the past few seasons at the Guthrie return for the 2006 edition of the holiday favorite. And that's not necessarily bad, as this production does a good balancing act. Barbara Field's adaptation is a strong one that retains much of Dickens' prose without tying down the production. Gary Gisselman directs with a deft touch that allows for sumptuous set pieces (the Fezziwig celebrations, the Ghost of Christmas Present descending from the fly tower in his holiday sleigh) but never loses sight of what the story is about. And Raye Birk leads a strong cast with his magnificent Scrooge.
Scrooge sits at the center of any good Christmas Carol, and here Birk never leaves the stage. He crafts his initial character fully out of vinegar – sour to a fault and angry that his bank book isn't as big as he hopes it could be. And as Scrooge goes on his journey, Birk doesn't lose his feisty nature – its composition just slowly changes. By the end, Scrooge is quite literally giddy as a schoolgirl, but it's easy to see that this nature lay within the character from the beginning (and if any theater needs a mad scientist or crazed maestro for a show, Birk is your man).
The rest of the cast is also strong, led by Michael Booth as henpecked but loving Bob Cratchit and Sally Wingert as his fiery but equally devoted and loving wife. Nathaniel Fuller provides quiet, but considerable menace as Jacob Marley, though I found his ghost to be a bit quick on his feet. Not only do all of his chains rattle about in a distracting manner, but you don't get the feeling that the chains he forged in life were any more than an inconvenience in death.
As a whole, A Christmas Carol works well. While it does drag in a few places (though not nearly as long as in past versions, the Fezziwig parties still feel overstuffed), the entire evening presents its tale with a solid mixture of darkness, humor and hope.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 30 at the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis. For tickets, call 612-377-2224 or visit www.guthrietheater.org.