NEW THIS WEEK

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- (Through Dec. 30 at Ford's Theatre)

For all its detail and charm, Ford's annual production doesn't quite pack the emotional wallop it should. Patrician-looking John William Cooke has no problem playing Scrooge-the-reformed; it's the persnickety stuff, the miserly, humbuggy bluster that gets short shrift. Since Scrooge must metamorphose from villain to hero in this heartwarming story of redemption, he should begin as more than an irritable guy with a chronic headache. Cooke does nothing to spoil the show; he merely mutes it so that we focus on the form instead of content. Set designer Daniel Proett's domestic scenes speak of care and style, D. Polly Kendrick's costumes are straight out of a 19th-century card collection and best of all are Rob Bowman's artful musical arrangements. In his finely wrought adaptation, director David Bell's 18-member cast imbues all that they do with a bracing clarity and quaintness, so that even Tiny Tim (James Bradley Johns) has just the right amount of urchinlike delight and compassion. -- Pamela Sommers

OTHELLO -- (Through Jan. 27 at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger)

With one stroke of nontraditional casting, director Hal Scott cuts Shakespeare's drama loose from racial melodrama and reestablishes it as pure tragedy. Both Othello (the majestic Avery Brooks) and Iago (the supple, malevolent Andre Braugher) are played by black actors in this production. Iago's racial hostility toward his general and victim, inevitable with a white actor in the role, is removed as a motive, and we get to see his villainy in its sheer malignant egotism. While it's rare to have both a great Othello and a great Iago in the same production, Brooks and Braugher are evenly matched and their scenes together are the kind of theater you dream about without ever believing you'll see. Braugher taunts, lures, goads and soothes Othello into madness. Brooks's essential innocence and undeserved suffering suggest a wounded animal. When he moves his head in bewildered pain, you can almost see the picador's lances sticking in his back. Jordan Baker is a self-possessed, clear-eyed Desdemona, undone, like Othello, by her own decency. -- Lloyd Rose