Rep’s “Christmas Carol”: More than holiday comfort food
Many ghosts of Christmas Past inhabit the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s closet. This year marks the company’s 36th annual seasonal production of A Christmas Carol, penned by Charles Dickens in 1843. Many of us know the story by heart, and the Rep’s adaptation, by director Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan, is a faithful Victorian reproduction.
A sizable cast of all ages populates the London streets on the Pabst Theatre’s stage and fills them with both holiday festivity and gravitas. The story revolves around Ebenezer Scrooge, that old skinflint who ultimately becomes a shining example of Christmas joy and goodwill. James Pickering plays Scrooge as a cool, calculating businessman, with eyes only for the bottom line. Pickering’s nuanced portrayal suggests that Scrooge’s tightfisted and even cruel nature results from injury rather than from a bona fide heart of stone. But Pickering’s Scrooge is funny, too. His dry wit elicits chuckles from the audience, particularly in an early scene with Fred, his exuberant nephew, played with great charisma by Steven Marzolf.
A few interesting twists in this production do not detract from the traditional nature of the period costumes and sets. The ensemble cast gathers as a large chorus for transitional scenes, injecting musical interludes of candlelit Christmas carols. The Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Deborah Staples, appears as a Rococo delight, aglow in dazzling gown. Two children, allegories for Remembrance and Forgiveness accompany her and add an uncommon touch. They prefigure the wretched waifs called Ignorance and Want, the young companions of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Jonathan Smoots’ presents this ghost as burly and jovial, a spirit indeed of good cheer.
A Christmas Carol can be understood on many levels. It is pure holiday entertainment, classic characters come to life. It has some laughs and will undoubtedly tug at your heartstrings. More deeply, it is a morality play with relevance to our own time of growing disparity between haves and haves-not. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater does ample justice to the beauty, nuance, and heart of this classic tale.
The Rep’s A Christmas Carol runs through Christmas Eve. Click here for a complete schedule and to order tickets or call the Rep’s box office, 414 224-9490.