A Newer and Leaner Version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the American Conservatory Theatre
Last year, Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh re-imagined Charles Dickens' annual classic, producing a fast paced 90-minute adaptation with one intermission. This year, Ms. Perloff and Mr. Walsh have put in new and revised scenes to make this a leaner production.
One of the best changes is that veteran Bay Area actor James Carpenter has taken over the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. He has made the character more comical, especially in the scenes of Christmas Past and Present. He gets off some clever remarks and makes the character more light hearted.
A Christmas Carol's set still looks like a German expressionistic film of the 1920s. It could have come from the UFA (the German Studio) production of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The choreography by Val Caniparoli is lively, especially the holiday dancing at Fezziwig's warehouse. The last scene involving a large object with flashing eyes that covers the whole stage looks better this year. It gives the audience a creepy feeling as it engulfs the actors.
James Carpenter is backed by a splendid cast that includes charming little children running about the stage in various scenes. They steal the show when some dress as Spanish Onions, Turkish Figs and French Plums.
Steven Anthony Jones, who was Scrooge for many years, once again is the Ghost of Christmas Present. His wonderful robust body and great theatrical voice still loom from a balcony high above the stage. Jack Willis as the Ghost of Jacob Marley is properly scary as he rises from the bed of Scrooge with a body full of chains that bind him. Sharon Lockwood is a delight as Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Fezziwig. Steve Irish is wonderful as the rotund Mr. Fezziwig. Brian Stevens is effective as the Young Scrooge while Katie Huard gives a delicate performance as Belle. Brennen Leath is properly jolly as nephew Fred.
Carey Perloff has made Bob and Anne Cratchit minor characters, especially in the famous Christmas scene at the Cratchit home. Jud Williford and Delia MacDougall do what they can to make them interesting. Christina Owens as the Ghost of Christmas Past comes flying onto the stage like a trapeze artist. This year she does not look like a Christmas candle.
This Christmas Carol does not seem to have the heart of prior productions I have seen. It seems to be a classic tale with a 21st century outlook.
A Christmas Carol plays at the American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco through December 24th. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-749-2228 or on line at www.act-sf.org.