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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Christmas Carol

Also see Richard's review of Leave it to Me


In December 1843 Charles Dickens wrote, "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly ..." He was referring to what has become one of the best loved stories in the English language, A Christmas Carol, and today it is still being read and performed all over the world.

Since 1843, millions of people have read the story and have received the spirit of this season. It has been filmed over 200 times since the inception of cinema. The ultimate Scrooge was Alastair Sim in the 1972 British film while Albert Finney was the epitome of the man in the musical Scrooge.

It would not be Christmas in San Francisco if we did not have the American Conservatory Theatre's perennial revival of the covetous old sinner and his nocturnal encounter with the true spirits of the yuletide season. This marks the 24th season of A Christmas Carol at ACT's Geary Theatre. I have seen some very fine actors take over this role over the years at ACT including William Patterson, Sidney Walker, Peter Donat and Ray Birk. All were admirable in the role.

This year the company has a new Scrooge in the person of Steven Anthony Jones who is a regular member of the ACT. He is the first Black American to play the penny pinching avaricious culprit at ACT. Mr. Jones makes us feel his abrasive insolation completely. He walks with slow and fatigued movements about the stage at the beginning. He has a permanent scowl on his face and he shows his hatred of the season. The interesting part of his acting is his accent. It is more South African than Victorian English. However, I did not mind since his acting ability and clearness of tone makes up for the accent. He is a marvelous Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol is listed as a new production since director Margo Whitcomb has taken over from the original directors Laird Williamson and Dennis Power for this 24th edition. However, I noticed very little difference. I still find some of the scenes of the production lifeless and almost sterile. I find this particularly in the five scenes of Scrooge's past. One of the most enjoyable scenes in past productions of the play was the Christmas party at Fezziwig's workplace. It was always fun and full of good dancing. However in this version, the dancing is sketchier and there seems to be a freezing of the actors which stalls the action. It just doesn't seem joyful enough. However, Will Huddleston makes a good jovial Mr. Fezziwig.

The scenes of Bob Cratchit's Christmas dinner are charming although a little rushed. Unfortunately, I could not hear the voice of Tiny Tim. It seems his role was cut to almost a walk on. To me the young boy is always the spirit of the yuletide season. Anthony Fusco is a good Bob Cratchit. There is a new design for the Ghost of Christmas Future. It is a large puppet dressed all in black with no face and bony fingers pointing. There are four men dressed in funereal black in the background of these scenes. It is an effective piece of theater.

Another remarkable performance is by Tommy A. Gomez who is the central voice of the play, doubling as the narrator, Charles Dickens, and the commanding Ghost of Christmas Present. The production still has Robert Blackman's toy box set in the center of the stage and the lovely storybook costumes by Robert Morgan and David F. Draper are enchanting. The bottom line here is that A Christmas Carol is a pleasing production.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 29 at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Blvd, San Francisco without intermission. Tickets are $15 to $61. Call (415)749-2228 or visit www.act-sfbay.org.

Swimming to Cambodia, Spalding Gray's one man performance plays six performances only, starting December 26. Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon opens on January 10 and runs through Feb. 10.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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