The 39th annual production of A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre is upon us, and this year’s production–steeped in Victorian spookiness–is a true redemptive treat. Despite Goodman’s jovial and colorful marketing of the production, Tom Creamer’s adaptation as directed by Henry Wishcamper is fraught with period bleakness. Scrooge’s world is grim and grimy, clearly articulating the necessity of an uplifting holiday amidst such stark living circumstances. It makes his transformation all the more miraculous and all the more moving.
For those unaware of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, A Christmas Carol recounts the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a miserly British businessman with considerable wealth and even more considerable disdain for the holidays. One Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him that he will yet be visited by three more spirits. Each subsequent ghost takes Scrooge on a journey through his past, present and future to help him rediscover why the holidays–and others–are so important.
Scrooge’s transformation–the crux of the show–is carefully charted by Chicago-favorite Larry Yando. Yando begins the play a snarling, growling, humbug only to end up as giddy as a schoolboy, merrily jigging about in his nightshirt to the shock of his maid. This is a hard-fought transition plotted with disbelief, hints of remorse, and still more disbelief before Scrooge ultimately capitulates to the truth of his reality. Yando traces this arc both subtly and in broad strokes. The overall performance is thus one that can appeal to older patrons as well as the younger family members sure to be present in Goodman’s Albert Theatre.
Along his journey, audiences are transported to a variety of locales, beautifully suggested by Todd Rosenthal’s intricate scenic design. Scrooge’s home–a vertiginous, cathedral-like structure, rendered through a raked perspective–is as gorgeously Victorian as it is creepy. It certainly feels like the place ghosts would visit, made all the better by some exceptionally startling bits of stage magic. The eeriness of Scrooge’s home is all the more effective post-transformation. It stands a testament to the way he used to live, a shell to be cast off and brightened up by the joy of Christmas.
While A Christmas Carol features extravagant costumes, sets and stage magic, Wishcamper’s production is quite simple in its staging. This simplicity, which renders the moments in Scrooge’s past, present and future with plenty of room to breathe, gives the piece an easy pace, even with all the bombastic time traveling. Where this direction is most affecting is in the final moments of Scrooge’s glorious Christmas morning, during a visit to his niece (savvy viewers will note the change from nephew), Frida (Kristina Valada-Viars). During this visitation, Yando’s palpable embarrassment and nervousness is quelled by Frida’s familial love through the simplest of gestures: an embrace.
That that unornamented action is enough to redeem Scrooge is a beautiful testament to the power of kinship during the holidays. And this 2016 season, A Christmas Carol’s message of kinship rings especially true. We all must take stock of past, present and future, so that we may truly appreciate those important to us.
A Christmas Carol runs in Goodman’s Albert Theatre through December 31. Tickets ($40-$105) are available by calling the boxoffice at 312-443-3800 or by visiting goodmantheatre.org. Group discounts are available for groups of 15 or more.