What I'd really like for Christmas, what I think we'd all like, is a new production of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre. I'm not asking for a different show -- Mr. Dickens wrote a good story and there's nothing wrong with hearing it once a year -- just a fresh approach to reinvigorate this local tradition. (If you can call five years a tradition.)
But there is no reason why this excellent tale has to be turned into the ghost of Christmas past, with the same antique, Christmas-card set, the same forced heartiness of caroling, costumed Victorians and a score of too-familiar carols and unimaginative songs. There is no need for this script by Rae Allen and Timothy Near, which forces otherwise capable actors to utter cliche' after cliche' and precocious child performers to chirp lines like: "Oh Mother! Oh Father! The dancing shoes I've always longed for!"
Santa, I must tell you there is something about this production that makes one, I mean me, feel like a child again. And I don't mean that a joyful spirit of innocence and light is unleashed in my soul. I mean that feeling of squirming in your seat, examining your new shoes, and asking your mother if you could sit in her lap and would she please explain who that tall lady is with the light bulbs in her hair? Christmas Present? But why is she so big?
The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who has a problem communicating, and can't seem to get in touch with his feelings, is a fine lesson for this season. He doesn't want the poor to be helped and thinks they should all go to the workhouse or die on the streets, and he's so stingy he won't heat his office. He's a workaholic and clearly doesn't jog. Donal Donnelly as Scrooge has an excellent acerbic tone, but veers into caricature -- although it's hard to blame him, given the general mood of the production.
Scrooge learns to be more giving and sharing through the lessons of three ghosts, in this production a rotund Christmas Past who looks rather like yourself, Santa, in a white nightgown, a Christmas Present in a low-cut dress, and an enormous, spooky Future that sweeps dramatically across the stage.
Hamilton Gillett manages some tender moments as Bob Cratchit, and 9-year-old Demetri Callas is cute and natural as Tiny Tim. Others in the hard-working cast (most play three or four characters) are helpful, including Ronnie Gilbert as Mrs. Fezziwig, Dori Legg as Martha and Elder Sister, Paul Norwood as Fred and Young Scrooge, and Ron Johnston as Past and Charwoman. Yes, there's even a bit of cross-sex casting at the end, but since director Ted Weiant has called for such a declamatory style of acting it's barely noticeable and seems more like fun for the cast.
In the new production, Santa, maybe it would be best to forget the English accents and just stick to what the actors know. I hope starting from scratch again is not too much to ask -- it would be so nice to go downtown to Ford's Theatre every Christmas and come out feeling Christmassy. Right now, we feel a little dusty and a little sad.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL, based on the story by Charles Dickens; adapted by Rae Allen and Timothy Near; sets and costumes, Christina Weppner; lighting, John Gisondi; puppets, Ingrid Crepeau; directed by Ted Weiant. With Donal Donnelly, Adriana Amelias, Marie Bethel, Demetri Callas, John C. Canney, Ingrid Crepeau, Amelia Esten, Catherine Flye, Hamilton Gillett, Helen Hedman, Ron Johnston, Roger Keiper, Anne Lalley, Dori Legg, Kevin Murray, Paul Norwood, Stephen Rudlin, Michael Schlesinger, Steve Steiner, Andrew Vaughn and Ronnie Gilbert. At Ford's Theatre through Dec. 30.