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A Christmas Carol

Mention the name Ebenezer Scrooge and the first thing that comes to mind for most folks is "Bah! Humbug!", forgetting that the point of Charles Dickens' beloved work is that the worst among us are capable of transformation. It's a brilliant story that has been adapted more times than anyone can count.

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge
Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
The Denver Center Theatre Company's current production, adapted by Richard Hellesen with music by David de Berry, is one of the most beautiful productions that you'll ever see, masterfully staged by Bruce K. Sevy, filled with poignant performances, set off by eye-popping effects, lush costumes, and stunning renditions of traditional carols (Gregg Coffin, music direction).

At the heart of this production, performing Scrooge here since 2005 (and since 1978 in his career), is Philip Pleasants. The key for audiences to believe that Scrooge is capable of having an epiphany is for us to see the hurt boy deep inside the acid-tongued, avaricious old man. The genius of Pleasants is that as nasty as his Scrooge is at the top of the story—when I first saw him play it this way, I wondered if it were possible for such a dastardly fellow to convince me he could have an epiphany—he shows us, in a series of perfectly timed incremental vocal and physical details, a playful, quirky, and genuinely funny piece of Ebenezer that has been buried under layers of disappointments and misguided choices. For these reasons alone, this production is a must see, as this will be Pleasants's last year performing his masterful interpretation.

Brody Lineaweaver as A Beggar Child and Christine Rowan as Street Singer
Brody Lineaweaver as A Beggar Child
and Christine Rowan as Street Singer
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
In addition to Pleasants' tour de force, there are multiple other fine performances. The subscription gentlemen (Colin Alexander, Rodney Lizcano) are the first to try find a seam somewhere in the crusty shell that Scrooge has erected around himself, but to no avail; in fact, their notions on the importance of charity drive Scrooge to declare, "If they (the poor) would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."1

Next, Fred (M. Scott McLean), Scrooge's nephew, tries, with gentle prodding, to get his mother's brother to lighten up, and gives him a Christmas present, but Scrooge will have none of it ... at least until Fred leaves. Then, we see the first inkling that, beneath his hardened exterior, there is something more to Scrooge than meets the eye. The moment is quite ephemeral, before Scrooge returns to his curmudgeonly ways, complaining to his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit (James Michael Reilly), about paying him for taking Christmas Day off.

The Cratchits: James Michael Reilly as Bob Cratchit and Augie Reichert as Tiny Tim
The Cratchits
with James Michael Reilly as Bob Cratchit
and Augie Reichert as Tiny Tim
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
McLean's cheeriness as Fred is contagious throughout; he is just as happy to see Scrooge at the onset, despite his uncle's rejection, as he is to see him after Scrooge's epiphany. Reilly radiates Cratchit's deeply humble, spiritual nature, showing kindness to everyone. His Christmas Day toast (Dickens at his finest) is transcendent.

So, other than one brief moment when Scrooge reveals a part of himself long buried—a lynchpin to a believable catharsis—we have no reason to think that he will ever change. But as Dickens promised, this is a ghost story, and four separate visitations are the deus ex machina on which this tale turns.

Jeffrey Roark as Ghost of Jacob Marley
Jeffrey Roark as
Ghost of Jacob Marley
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
First is the Ghost of Jacob Marley (Jeffrey Roark). Roark's rich voice serves as a springboard for the amplification of Marley's tortured ghoulish existence, paying the price for a life focused on capital (money commoditized through interest) instead of people. Consider Dickens' genius here, choosing the initial ghost as one who lived a life similar to the way Scrooge is living his life. It's an easy first step for Scrooge, because he admires Marley; so when the Ghost of Jacob Marley tells Scrooge to repent of his materialistic ways, attention must be paid.

At this point, Scrooge is still playing it both ways, rattling his cane under his bed to check for monsters, yet whistling in the dark, assuring himself that the experience with Marley is an illusion, nothing more than a figment of indigestion.

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer and Stephanie Cozart as Ghost of Christmas Past
Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge
and Stephanie Cozart as Ghost of Christmas Past
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
Scrooge's self-deception is broken by the stunning arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Stephanie Cozart). Cozart has been asked to play this role for many years, and with good reason, as she taps into a deep vein of truth, which quickly captures Scrooge and makes him face some hard realizations. Dickens enables Scrooge's captivation by showing him shadows that are, at first, pleasurable, such as images of his young classmates, his beloved sister Fan (Ella Galaty, with a beautiful a cappella carol), the always wonderful and hilarious Fezziwigs (mischievous Michael Fitzpatrick and the opera buffo diva Leslie O'Carroll) or his resplendent one-time betrothed, Belle (Courtney Capek), before getting down to brass tacks, when the Spirit of Christmas Past shows him accepting the ring back from Belle. Capek radiates goodness as she explains to Ebenezer how he has changed and now worships "a golden god."

Colin Alexander as Ghost of Christmas Present
Colin Alexander as
Ghost of Christmas Present
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
Scrooge tries to tell his younger self to reconsider, but the shadows of the past flit away, and Scrooge cringes at his mistakes; yet, during an interlude in his journey of spiritual rebirth, he still wonders if this is not all an illusion that he can escape; that is, until the Ghost of Christmas Present (Colin Alexander) arrives. Alexander is wonderfully magnanimous and jolly, as we would hope, but with a critical eye for separating those who are naughty from those who are nice, reminding Scrooge of his prior comments regarding the reduction of surplus population.

After a thoughtful discussion between the ghost and Scrooge concerning the way in which the meaning of Christmas has been inverted, Scrooge gets to eavesdrop on what his nephew Fred's wife and friends, as well as the Cratchits, think of him. Again, he cringes and bows his head, but is still not wholly convinced. Much merriment is had amongst Fred's friends, while the poignancy of the Cratchits' situation, including child labor issues (a favorite Dickens topic), are brought to bear. The ensemble work here and throughout the production is stellar, as is the dance choreography (Christine Rowan).

A Christmas Carol ensemble
A Christmas Carol ensemble
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the children of Ignorance and Want, and lays their existence on Scrooge's doorstep, turning the screw a few more rotations, before the final blow: the ominous Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (Allen Dorsey) reveals shadows of Scrooge's funeral, the human vultures who come to pick over his possessions, the death of Tiny Tim and, finally, Scrooge's tombstone, the latter bringing Scrooge to fully repent, before he wakes up to a glorious Christmas morning and begins to make amends for his conduct. Pleasants' joy in this regard is heartfelt and infectious, enabling us to enjoy the season as it was meant to be, and once again showing that this story serves as our most relevant contemporary morality play.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 27th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows



Footnote:
1 As chilling as this sounds, Dickens is not exagerating when he assigns this attitude to Scrooge, who is a banker (usurer) in the City of London. Some of central bankers (the Rockefellers, Standard Oil, the Rockefeller Foundation) are on record as having actively supported eugenics (Dr. Joseph Mengeles) even before the Nazis took over. During the war itself, some corporate tycoons (Thomas Watson, IBM) helped the Nazis keep track of who they had rounded up and exterminated. Such policies continue today through war, medical profiteering, and other programs engendered by those who control the private central banks, their corporations, and their governments.

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