- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2000

Ho, ho, humbug. Another year, another dose of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre.

But wait: This year the production brims with vitality and energy. The set changes are timed with precision, with special effects that are simple but stunning. The actor playing Scrooge also is impeccable.

This is no small feat to pull off with one of the best — but worn — tales of the season. One can almost hear oneself reciting the familiar lines, almost along with the actors, as the mid-19th century Charles Dickens classic unfolds.

"Carol" this year proves to be much tighter than previous Ford productions of it. Steven Crossley returns to the role of old Ebenezer, 13 years after his 1987 debut of David H. Bell's adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's.

His Scrooge is the quiet kind, the one who burns at the mere mention of Christmas. Gaunt-looking with a mass of gray hair, this Scrooge slowly develops from miserliness to benevolence. By the time Scrooge finds out he can change — we all know the ending, don't we? — Mr. Crossley takes on a laughing giddiness that recalls Alistair Sim's classic 1951 film performance of the role.

Mr. Crossley, who conceived and performed the one-man show "Dickens in America," knows well the Scrooge character and the author's work. His version of Scrooge's stinginess is like a persistent candle that could be snuffed out, and nobody would care. This makes the subtle transformation all the more believable, even with the tears that flow over his lost childhood.

Mark Aldrich begins the play's energy as the persistently good-natured Scrooge nephew, Fred. There's even a surprising moment at the play's start when the avuncular nephew kisses the uncle on the head; the old man responds with characteristic rage.

Kevin Wallace's musical direction enhances the play, whether it's with harp glissandi or the deft touch of a keyboard. Chorus members insert themselves harmoniously between each scene or just to move the drama along. At one point, the grayish-blue Jacob Marley's ghost, the former business partner, pops up amid the chorus to add to Scrooge's nightmarish ordeal.

John Leslie Wolfe carries off Marley exceedingly well, even in the business partner's younger incarnation. Marley has no feeling for Scrooge or anything else — other than money — making him easily the most villainous character in the play. Yet there is a sympathy one almost feels for Marley's ghost, whose life in the great beyond is an endless purgatory.

The set direction is a well-choreographed melee directed by Daniel Proett, who turns an office into a bedroom into Fezziwig's countinghouse with unnoticed ease.

Ghosts are predictable but suitable. Mary Jayne Raleigh takes on a down-to-earth, slightly amused Christmas Past. Jim Beard, with his own Santa Claus beard, dons the garland and cornucopia with sufficient bluster. (He also portrays Fezziwig, Scrooge's boss when he was a young apprentice.)

The Cratchits are the ultimate nuclear family, with the sideburned Bob (Dwight Tolar) as the head of the household. When Bob proposes a toast to his employer, Mr. Scrooge, Amy McWilliams as Mrs. Cratchit nearly explodes. The temptation for Bob's character would be to milk it with unfortunate sappiness, but Mr. Tolar eases Mrs. Cratchit's testiness with earnestness and strength.

Bringing the Cratchit family to Scrooge's office at the end of the play — forcing an already happy ending — was the one wrinkle to this production. The interplay between Bob and Ebenezer is enough to suit the play.

WHAT: "A Christmas Carol"WHERE: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NWWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Sign-interpreted performance at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and audio-described performance at 7:30 p.m. TuesdayTICKETS: $27 to $43PHONE: 202/347-4833 or 703/218-6500 (tickets.com)

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