For the third consecutive season, Ford's Theatre revived Rae Allen and Timothy Near's adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" last night, and while this year's production is distinctly superior to last year's, it's still a wildly uneven show. For each agreeable moment, there is a lackluster one. In fact, for each agreeable moment, there are probably two lackluster ones.
Let's defer to the holiday spirit and count the blessings first. Scrooge is being played this time out by Jarlath Conroy, a fine Irish actor who, with his spindly body and snappish spirit, manages to resemble an irascible question mark for much of the evening. But Conroy also has an inbred twinkle and an Irishman's appreciation for ale and good cheer, which makes Scrooge's ultimate conversion a perfectly logical, not to say satisfactory, happening.
The production can also boast some impressive special effects -- "A Christmas Carol" is a ghost story, don't forget -- and Marley's emergence in a swirl of smoke and green light from the depths of Scrooge's vault remains one of the show's better achievements. Christmas Present, rather like the Christmas tree in "The Nutcracker Suite," rises from a seated position to a height of about 10 feet, her green skirts billowing and the lights in her hair twinkling. (No matter that the actress playing her is more Blaze Starr than Christmas Star.) Christmas Future, a hooded fantom in black, stands even taller, and could probably sell his services to the Bread and Puppet Theater, once Ford's engagement ends. There is also some pleasant caroling, a snowfall, and a most good-natured Bob Cratchit in the person of Doug Stender.
The rest may test your patience, however. Allen and Near's script -- partly narrated, partly acted -- has a terrible tendency to dawdle, and Allen and Near, also being the directors, seem to have a basic reluctance to prune, condense and generally speed things along. The direction does keep the story clear this time, as it didn't last year, although it relies unduly on recyled ploys of Tom ("Hair" and "Jesus Christ Superstar") O'Horgan. As for the members of the supporting cast, they will doubtless make proud parents even prouder. Those without blood bonds may be less enthralled.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Adapted and directed by Rae Allen and Timothy Near; sets and costumes, Christina Weppner; lighting, John Gisondi; musical direction, Michael Howe. With Jarlath Conroy, Doug Stender, Jared Matesky, Mary Irey, Brian O'Conner. At Ford's Theatre through Jan. 3.