Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


A Christmas Carol
American Conservatory Theater
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent review of Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski


The Cast
Photo by Kevin Berne
As American Conservatory Theater Artistic Director Pam McKinnon notes in the program for the company's A Christmas Carol, which opened this week at the Toni Rembe Theater, productions of the story have become a "uniquely North American tradition." During December, I don't think any American is more than an hour or so from a staging of Dickens' classic tale of regret and redemption. But I sincerely doubt any production of this well-loved story could be better than what director Peter J. Kuo has put together for Bay Area audiences. The adaptation by Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh absolutely rockets along, hitting all the key moments, then moving on to ensure we are never bored.

You know the story–how can you not? Old Ebenezer Scrooge (the role is alternating between two of our finest local actors, James Carpenter and Anthony Fusco) is bah-humbugging his way through Christmas Eve, generally making life miserable for everyone who's trying to make him merry: his assistant Bob Crachit (the ever-delightful Jomar Tagatac); the children who come to sing carols outside the window of his counting house; the couple who come seeking donations for a fund to provide some warmth and sustenance for those who have little; and Scrooge's nephew, Fred (James WDL Mercer II).

After shooing away all these well-wishers, Scrooge heads home, where he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Dan Hiatt in the most glorious fright wig you've ever seen). Marley gives Scrooge a dire warning: shape up while there is still time or prepare to spend eternity shackled in chains of your own making. Before Marley is sucked back into his afterworld duties, he tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits who will show him where he lost his way, what his humbug attitude has led to, and where it will lead him if he doesn't get back on the right path.

Carpenter as Scrooge is almost a specter himself: gaunt, with unkempt tresses, and attired (for most of the show) in a ghostly-white dressing gown, shawl and nightcap. He plays the role with tremendous gusto, each "bah humbug" snarled with vitriol and spite. Like Fred and Bob Crachit, we don't hate Scrooge for his curmudgeonliness, but rather feel sorry that he has let himself come to this point, denying himself the love of family and the joys of human connection.

Carpenter is well supported by the rest of the cast, each of whom seem to relish their roles in this beloved tale. Tagatac's Crachit has an irresistible charm and a sparkling glint in his eye. He seems to radiate love and good will. As Marley (sadly a smallish role), Dan Hiatt could credibly be accused of chewing the scenery, but it's clear his Marley feels so strongly about the message he is delivering that it requires every ounce of passion within him. The first two ghosts are equal parts droll docents and stern taskmasters–though not terribly ominous. At least to us. But if you bring young children to the show–and you should–be prepared for them to be a little freaked out at the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The sets (by John Arnone) are not opulent or overly detailed, but nevertheless have a grand scale and a grittiness that blends perfectly with Dickens' text. Beaver Bauer has likewise done a first-rate job of creating costumes that befit both the period and the characters who wear them.

It's fitting that A Christmas Carol comes at the end of the year, when we might all benefit from a reminder to look back at our pasts, imagine our futures, and consider how we might strive to be better, more loving, more generous versions of ourselves. If you're like me, you also might find yourself tearing up a bit as little James Coniglio as Tiny Tim delivers that famous closing line, "God bless us every one." This is nothing short of a spectacular rendering of a classic that feels as fresh and vital as if it just came out of Charles Dickens' quill.

A Christmas Carol plays through December 24, 2022, at American Conservatory Theater, Toni Rembe Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Saturdays at 7:00 p.m., Sundays at 6:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. There will be 1:00 p.m. matinees on Wednesday, December 21, Friday, December 23 and Saturday, December 24. There will be no evening performances on December 11 or 24. Tickets range from $25-$130. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.act-sf.org.


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