A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- At Ford's Theater through December 31.

The set for "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theater looks like an old-fashioned Christmas card -- one of those Victorian London street scenes, in which the windows can be bent open to reveal a variety of tiny pictures or messages.

The actors, in their plaid flouncy costumes and bright mufflers, match: They look the way we picture 19th-century carolers.With snow, songs and oversized puppets, it makes a prett spectacle. The production will later be shown on Channel 26.

This is not Dickens, but processed Dickens. The harsh elements of the story have been smoothed into cheery blandness. The tear-jerking part, the possible future Christmas in which the Cratchits try to be brave about Tiny Tim's death, is quickly erased by Scrooge's enthusiastic optimism.

Ronald Bishop, who directed the production of Rae Allen and Timothy Near's adaptation of the story, plays Scrooge with such bounce, in fact, that questions ariise that are inappropriate to the play and the season. Looking like Santa Claus and delivering his disgruntled remarks with irascible charm, he is, from the beginning, the most appealing character on stage.

Sympathy for Scrooge, as a reasonable neo-conservative surrounded by people who mean well but haven't thought anything out, may sneak unwanted into the adult viewer's mind. Those who knock on his door asking charity look like disorganized dogooders who never would manage to get the money where it belongs. His nephew certainly does seem to have married into a family of ninnies. The Cratchits so thoroughly suppress family discussions of poor working conditions that it seems unfair to put onto management the full burden of looking out for interests the laborers refuse to acknowledge.

And the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present are so naggy that one can understand Scrooge's polite attempts to excuse himself from sharing their visions. When Christmas-card figures come alive, it seems, they speak at the moral and philosophical level of Christmas-card messages.

However, that is merely the word from the Bah Humbug Department, which should not prevail at holiday time.