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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A New Version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol at American Conservatory Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of After Dark and Into the Woods and Mary Wilson at the Empire Plush Room

A Christmas Carol
Allison Youngberg
Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh have re-imagined Charles Dickens' annual classic A Christmas Carol by presenting the world premiere of a streamlined, 90-minute with intermission, fast-paced version that borders on the German Expressionistic films of the 1920s. The sets looks like they came from early sound cartoon films.  For twenty nine years, A.C.T. has presented a more traditional version of the Christmas classic; there is very little of that conventional Dickens feeling in this production. Steven Anthony Jones, who played Scrooge for many years, has been replaced by Giles Havergal (on opening night Steven Anthony Jones played the Ghost of Christmas Present, filling in for the laryngitis-affected Velina Brown.). 

The new version is faithful to the classic script, but much of the presentation is devoid of warmth.  Only the lively dancing choreographed by Cal Caniparoli and danced by Steve Irish and Sharon Lockwood as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig gives that holiday feeling. Ken Ruta plays Jacob Marley in a steel gray suit looking like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.  He rises from Scooge's bed like a Universal horror film creature.

Allison Youngberg plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, flying about on a trapeze bar.  For some reason, she is supposed to represent a candle but she looks more like an ice queen.

Steven Anthony Jones makes a fine Ghost of Christmas Present, with his round, robust body and great theatrical voice that booms from high above the stage floor.  Some charming little children dressed as Spanish Onions, Turkish Figs and French plums do a lovely little dance, with the talented Cindy Goldfield as a produce seller kicking up her heels and joining in.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is a large object with red flashing eyes, covering the whole stage.  It is also out of a Universal horror film, and is entirely too large to be effective.  Dancers come in and out with tombstones until Scrooge sees his name on one the stones.  This is the weakest of the three ghost scenes.

Giles Havergal is a perfect killjoy for the holidays at the beginning of the production, but his change to being a charitable human being is lost in this performance.  He seems to be the same person even after the three ghosts have visited.

Jud Williford and Jamila Webb as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit do what they can, but their roles are minor in this production. However, they give good performances. G.D. Kimble is very jolly as Scrooge's nephew Fred.  The new score by Karl Lundeberg seems ordinary.  Prior productions had a Dickens character explaining some of the action; these were masterpieces of Dickens' writing.  Now the words are put to the mundane melodies and they have lost their spark.

A Christmas Carol will play at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Ave, San Francisco through December 24th.  Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-749-2228 or visiting www.act-sf.org.  

A.C.T.'s next production will be David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago opening on January 5th.


Photo: Joan Marcus


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

- Richard Connema



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