'Tis the season for holiday traditions, and for many here in Seattle, one of those traditions is watching A Christmas Carol at A Contemporary Theatre. A holiday staple in the Northwest since 1976, this production has been adapted by Gregory A. Falls' and features music by Adam Stern.
I doubt that there is a person alive who is not familiar with A Christmas Carol. It is probably the most adapted work in the English language, having been filmed countless times, turned into at least two major musicals, and used as a plot device for just about every television show. But just in case, A Christmas Carol deals with the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, the stingiest man in all of London, through the visitation of three Christmas spirits (thus making it, if I remember my High School English classes correctly, the first published ghost story).
I have seen many stage adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and have even performed in one as The-Ghost-of-Christmas-Yet-to-Come, so I am very much aware of the pitfalls that face theaters adapting this work by Charles Dickens. The biggest challenge is that the book is largely exposition and description. Add to that the myriad settings and multitude of characters, and you have a daunting task: keeping the (pardon the pun) spirit of the book alive, without killing the audience with dry narration, inaccessible accents, and confusing characters.
That said, ACT's adaptation of A Christmas Carol is the best that I have seen. It is a bare bones production, with a minimum of set pieces appearing and disappearing as needed. The majority of the atmosphere is provided by the cast of nineteen, who play the fifty characters in A Christmas Carol, and do so impeccably. To a person, the cast is incredible and creates a seamless ensemble, thereby making it difficult to single-out any one performance (especially since they are all playing between two and five characters). Memorable moments and characters (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) are Kimber Lee playing The-Ghost-of-Christmas-Past as a cross between Ariel from The Tempest and Burt from Mary Poppins, Joss Viramontes, who made Scrooge's nephew, Fred into a three dimensional character, and David Drummond, who perfectly captured Bob Cratchit's downtrodden nobility.
Of course, A Christmas Carol is nothing without a good Scrooge, and ACT has not one, but two. Throughout the run, David Pichette and Peter Silbert [pictured right] alternate as Ebenezer Scrooge. Peter Silbert was Scrooge at the performance that I attended, and he was the strongest Scrooge I have ever seen. He successfully portrayed Scrooge as a person rather than the caricature that he usually becomes. He also managed to find the moments of effective humor, rather than broadly playing him for laughs, which made us empathize with Scrooge more than usual, and see ourselves in him.
I do find it extremely ironic that this show is running while Seattle is hosting the World Trade Organization. A Christmas Carol is, at its heart, a morality play about how we are all connected, and that true happiness depends on how we treat others, especially the poor and those who work for us. This just so happens to be the lesson that the multitude of protestors which has descended on Seattle are trying to impart to the WTO. Unfortunately, ACT is located at ground zero for the WTO conference, and has been forced to cancel a week of performances for safety reasons. What a shame ... especially since the protestors would probably have better luck getting their message across by chipping in and purchasing tickets for all the delegates instead of through their sound-bytes and rallies. A Christmas Carol runs through December 26 at ACT, located at the corner of 7th and Union in Seattle. For more information, call their box office at (206) 292-7676 or visit their website: www.acttheatre.org.