Monday, December 13, 2010
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – SCROOGE BECOMES COMMERCIALLY ACCEPTABLE AND FUN
Reviewed by James Karas
Ebenezer Scrooge poses a menace to capitalism. Make that “posed” a danger because he was eventually reformed and came to his senses to make the world safe for business and render Christmas a commercial success.
If you want to examine Scrooge closely, you can (and should) go to Soulpepper’s revival of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as adapted for the stage by Michael Shamata. Soulpepper is putting it on for the fifth time at the Young Centre with Joseph Ziegler as the unforgettable bah, humbugger.
But let’s not get sidelined by the spirit of Christmas or mawkish sentimentality and such trivia as love, kindness and humanity. None of the latter ever paid the rent and if pre-reformation Scrooge lacks all of those qualities no business owner at the Eaton Centre would give a gnat’s ass about it.
What is the real problem with Scrooge before his terribly disturbed Christmas Eve slumber?
Soulpepper’s theatre-in-the-round production directed by Shamata moves us deftly through the text and the important issues appear quickly. Scrooge disapproves of his nephew Fred (Matthew Edison) spending money that he does not have. He refuses to give a farthing to a charity and he orders his employee, nice-guy Bob Cratchit (Oliver Dennis) not to put any more coal on the fire.
This man is a menace. If credit cards are not over-loaded by fools like Fred, charities are not handsomely supported and fuel is not used, how are the outlet malls going to survive?
It gets worse. Scrooge is visited by three ghosts during the night (a bad meal will do that to you) representing Christmases past, present and future. The Ghosts and his late partner Jacob Marley are all played expertly by John Jarvis. We see the same pattern – this man will not help the economy. Even the lovely Belle (Sarah Wilson) refuses to marry Ebenezer because he has become a greedy accumulator of money.
If he were a “good” man, he would have spent a fortune on jewelry, wedding expenses, gifts and gone on to children, mortgages and the full catastrophe as Zorba the Greek would say. All of that is good for business. Scrooge evades, indeed, avoids, the whole mess. He lives cheaply but quite comfortably is held in low esteem by his family and his colleagues putatively on moral grounds. If they denigrated him on purely commercial principles, they would have been closer to the mark.
The dead Marley and the three ghosts do their job. Before the transformation of Scrooge we are treated to a visit with the poor-but-happy Cratchits where the participation of the nauseating Tiny Tim (Owen Cumming) is kept to a minimum. Then Scrooge wakes up and he is a new man, homo cheopo has become homo spendo.
It is Christmas morning but the butcher, unlike Bob Cratchit, does not get the day off and he has not sold the biggest turkey in the store. Ebenezer helps the poultry industry by buying the turkey, the transportation sector by using a coach to deliver it and the charities by promising a handsome amount to some institution. Things are looking up. He gives Cratchit a raise so he can spend it on his annoying children, and launches into a spending spree that should delight Bond Street and Oxford Street shop owners.
A Christmas Carol has more than forty roles and there is a great deal of doubling up. The production moves quickly and sentimentality is somewhat checked. Even Tiny Tim’s last line of “God bless us, every one!” is given to Scrooge who, by now, is one of us.
Everyone is supposed to speak with an English accent but we have come to accept the fact that with most Canadian actors that is a consummation to be wished for rather than achieved. So be it. The performances are otherwise very good.
A Christmas Carol was published 167 years ago but the idea of human transformation (even if not necessarily for commercial purposes) is as old as humanity and as fresh as last night’s fine production of this wonderful story.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Shamata continues until December 30, 2010 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.