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A Christmas Carol

It will be a wonderful day when the conditions of the poor in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol are a thing of the past, but when it's illegal for the homeless to camp out in Denver and the bankers who own the money supply make sure there are not enough green pieces of paper in circulation, so that joblessness, bankruptcies, and foreclosures are guaranteed, then we should require that all usurers attend a production of this story as a requirement of their spiritual rehabilitation.

Jeff Cribbs as Bob Cratchit
Jeff Cribbs as Bob Cratchit
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
You will recall that Ebenezer Scrooge is a usurer in the City of London who disparages charity and suggests that the poor should die "to reduce the surplus population." (Sound familiar? It should. Usurers, such as the Rockefellers and their foundations, have long supported eugenics and fascism.) He pays his clerk, Bob Cratchitt, a subsistence wage (current minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009!) and refuses to provide the poor fellow with heat in the dead of winter. Then, one Christmas eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, who explains to Scrooge that he, Marley, is condemned to spend eternity roaming the earth, never to find rest or peace, experiencing an "incessant torture of remorse" as penance for abusing others for profit. Marley's ghost tells Scrooge to expect three visitors—ghosts—who will set him straight.

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge
Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
After a year's absence, the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Richard Hellesen's adaptation, with music by David de Berry, returns in a slightly abbreviated version (2 hours and 10 minutes) that dazzles us at every turn. At the center of director Bruce K. Sevy's glorious pageant is Philip Pleasants as Scrooge. Pleasants never ceases to amaze us in this role: at first, making us cringe at his callousness, followed by a glimmer of the hurt boy underneath his prickly armor, until the fissures reveal a growing horror at his own choices and their consequences for himself and others; until finally, he exudes the joy of being alive and making amends. The details of Pleasants' performance, whether he is center stage or an observer to a scene, are a master class in acting.

Of all the targets of Scrooge's abuse, it is only his nephew, Fred (Douglas Harmsen), who refuses to take "Humbug!" for an answer. Harmsen lights up the stage with good cheer, whether fending off Fred's uncle's barbs or celebrating the season with Fred's wife and their friends.

While meek in the presence of his employer (Scrooge), Jeff Cribbs' Bob Cratchit warms us with his heartfelt compassion for his family and friends. His toast in the present, and speech as a shadow of future possibilities, will open and then break your heart.

Michael Fitzpatrick as Fezziwig and Leslie O'Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig
Michael Fitzpatrick as Fezziwig
and Leslie O'Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Michael Fitzpatrick and Leslie O'Carroll as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig take Christmas gaity to new heights with a playful dance and a comic aria.

One of the most painful lessons for Scrooge is to revisit Belle (Courtney Capek) returning Ebenezer the Young Man's (M. Scott McLean) engagement ring. Capek's blend of trepidation and truth mixed with McLean's growing anger (stepped up from previous years) packs a punch, as old Scrooge observes his poor choices and the roots of his bitterness.

John Hutton as the Ghost of Jacob Marley
John Hutton as the Ghost of Jacob Marley
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Guiding Scrooge on his journey of redemption are the Ghosts of Jacob Marley (John Hutton), Christmas Past (Stephanie Cozart), Christmas Present (Leonard E. Barrett Jr.), and Christmas Yet To Come (Christoper Wells). Hutton's strong voice work and world-weary futility are chillng; Cozart's cool logic and incisive quips cut Scrooge to the quick; Barrett's magnanimity and gravity leave no wiggle room for Scrooge to avoid the point; Well's frightening stature and merciless examples push Scrooge to the brink.

A host of attractive young men and women brighten the festivities.

(Left to right) Stephanie Cozart as The Charwoman, Douglas Harmsen as The Undertaker's Man, John Hutton as Old Joe, and Kathleen M. Brady as The Laundress
(L to R) Stephanie Cozart as The Charwoman,
Douglas Harmsen as The Undertaker's Man,
John Hutton as Old Joe,
and Kathleen M. Brady as The Laundress
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
The period carols sprinkled throughout the play are sung beautifully from the adults and children alike.

Costume designer Kevin Copenhaver's lush fabrics and layers, Christine Rowan's sweeping choreography, a multitude of complex lighting schemes by Don Darnutzer, a rich mix of sound effects by Craig Breitenbach, and evocative set pieces by Vicki Smith, make for memorable tableaux.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 29th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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