'Tis the season, once again, for "A Christmas Carol." You can choose between two staged versions of Charles Dickens' fable -- a traditional one at Ford's Theater and a sendup at Columbia Station -- though neither quite catches the spirit intended.
The production at Ford's comes nearer the mark, with a lot of pleasant caroling and clever special effects. Rae Allen and Timothy Near's adaptation is likable enough, but lacks the bite and fright of Dickens' classic ghost story.
Despite the makeup, Jarlath Conroy seems too lean, limber and full of fun to pass for miserly Scrooge; even when wishing his fellow man to "be boiled in his own pudding," he betrays a curmudgeonly charm.
And if he's not too spooked by visiting spirits -- there's just a startled grunt for each -- the audience isn't, either: Marley's Ghost whines and sniffles, Christmas Past is a pixie, Present's hoop-skirt looks comically hydraulic, and black-shrouded Yet-to- Come, 12 feet tall, seems less majestic than maladroit negotiating the stage.
It's hardly enough to scare Scrooge out of his wits and produce a changed man.
At Columbia Station, Gross National Product's satire, "A Bonzo Christmas Carol," boasts plenty of promise: Ronald Reagan as Scrooge, Richard Nixon as Marley, and a cast of wags from Jane Wyman to James Watt. Alas, funny intentions don't make a zany play.
There are chuckles here and there -- largely from Jim Morris' befuddled Reagan, replete with aw-shucks grin -- but most of the material is the stuff that sleep is made on. Quips about Reagan's hair and B-movie career, or Nixon/Marley intoning "I am the president," are no less tired now than they were in the last election. Despite a crackerjack premise, the writers end up in the same fix as their caricatured Reagan, shrugging amiably as he asks, "What do I do now?" A BONZO CHRISTMAS CAROL -- At Columbia Station through January 9. A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- At Ford's Theater through January 2.