The Bay Area’s favorite holiday tradition returns as American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) presents the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Now in its 41st year at A.C.T., A Christmas Carol welcomes the return of James Carpenter as Ebenezer Scrooge and Ken Ruta as the ghost of Jacob Marley.
Last weekend A.C.T. was packed to the rafters with attendees for whom this holiday performance is a family tradition. After Ebenezer Scrooge’s disembodied voice warned everyone to turn off cell phones and put away cameras, the audience was treated to delightful music, gorgeous costumes and those deliciously spooky ghosts of Christmas past and Christmas present.
This version of A Christmas Carol was adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff; it stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption and brings a playful sensibility to his rich language. Directed by Domenique Lozano, the play’s creative team includes scenic designer John Arnone with period costumes by Beaver Bauer. Original songs and score are from composer Karl Lundeberg, and choreography is by Val Caniparoli of the San Francisco Ballet.
A Christmas Carol features a multigenerational cast of performers led by James Carpenter as Scrooge with Anthony Fusco as the Scrooge alternate, along with Ken Ruta as the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner. David Graham Jones stars as Bob Cratchit, the long-suffering clerk who works for Scrooge, and Delia MacDougall plays his wife Anne. Catherine Castellanos is the colorful ghost of Christmas present. And the ghost of Christmas past is Lily Narbonne, appearing in a silver gown on a trapeze. Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, is played to hilarious perfection by Sharon Lockwood.
Twelve students from the A.C.T. master of fine arts program are featured in this year’s production. And rounding out the cast are 29 talented young actors from the A.C.T. young conservatory. These children portray a range of characters including youngsters of the Cratchit family, a very young Ebenezer Scrooge and a delectable array of dancing foods – Spanish onions, Turkish figs and French plums.
This holiday audience favorite is about social justice. Written in 1843, the story portrays a man (Scrooge) redeemed by memories after years of suppressing them. As literary scholar Michael Patrick Hearn points out about A Christmas Carol, healing a community begins with changing an individual – Ebenezer Scrooge. The ghost of Jacob Marley reflects in the play:
“Mankind was our business. The common welfare was our business; charity, mercy, benevolence were our business. The dealing of our trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of our business! . . . Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down? Why did we turn away when others were in need?”
From sea captains to carolers, strolling townspeople to produce sellers, Dickens gives us a multifaceted view of Christmas in 19th century England, enlivened for the stage by the Walsh/Perloff adaptation, and the on-point performances of A.C.T.’s talented actors.
As literary scholar Michael Patrick Hearn points out about A Christmas Carol, healing a community begins with changing an individual – Ebenezer Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol
American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) Geary Theater, San Francisco
4.5 out of 5 stars — Highly Recommended
Photo credit: Kevin Berne