Chicago Theater Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Goodman Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 24, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Thanksgiving hasn’t happened but, yes, it’s time for the 37th second coming of Goodman Theatre’s beloved cash cow. A Christmas Carol remains their venerable, popular and—to addicted theatergoing Chicagoans—invaluable, holiday hallmark. After so many Scrooges and Marleys over two generations, the slightest changes loom large: That, of course, provides the best excuse for re-reviewing this Dickens on Dearborn about which I’ve written over 30 times before.

Larry Neumann Jr. (Percy), Nathaniel Buescher (Tiny Tim), Bret Tuomi (Mr. Fezziwig), Phillip Cusic (Peter Cratchit), Skye Sparks (Belinda Cratchit), J. Salome Martinez (Dick Wilkins), William Burke (Old Joe’s Assistant), Kristina Valada-Viars (Abby),Paige Collins (Martha Cratchit), Ava Morse (Emily Cratchit) and Theo Allyn (Miss Ortle) in A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren.

A bit longer than usual, director Henry Wishcamper’s 2014 treatment of Tom Creamer’s esteemed adaptation is, happily, darker than usual. It doesn’t open with happy carols but a dour narrator portentously explaining why it’s essential that we know that “Marley was dead to begin with.” Larry Yando’s ensuing Scrooge is free of twinkling, nodding, and the oft-seen Scroogian subtext: “Yes, I’m a grouch now but I just KNOW I’ll be redeemed in two hours.” No, this is the true Victorian Scrooge, a bogeyman whose unproductive greed stems the flow of money (he’s basically a loan shark operating a pawn shop). Ebenezer (how can you be loved with a name like that?) is a scary soul who long ago shut away Christmas because happy memories turn toxic when you’ve reduced yourself to a miserly recluse.

Larry Neumann Jr. (Schoolmaster), Phillip Cusic (Peter Cratchit), Skye Sparks (Belinda Cratchit), Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) and Nathaniel Buescher (Tiny Tim) in Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Of course, there are the inveterate opening-night chucklers in the crowd who, recalling more genial Scrooges on the Goodman stage, want the crotchety old geezer to be unthreateningly amusing—all so they can miss the point. The best Christmas Carol—alas, impossible because we know it so well—would be one where the audience is never quite sure that the miserable hater will ever be redeemed: “Maybe this time the devil will get his due…” The thrill of the known, sadly, is much less tantalizing.

William Burke (Young Scrooge), Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) and Paige Collins (Fan) in Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As for the intangibles and unchangeables in Goodman’s Yule pageant, the no-longer-controversial colorblind casting continues (though it stretches credulity to have Scrooge as a Boy played by African-American actor William A. Burke). An Aryan poster boy or male Valkyrie, the Ghost of Christmas Past (a blonde and muscular Patrick Andrews) could have stepped out of a Leni Riefenstahl documentary on Hitler Youth. (It’s a bit disconcerting and un-Dickensian.) Lisa Gaye Dixon’s stentorian Ghost of Christmas Past makes effective editorials, excoriating Scrooge and other one-percenters for dismissing their fellow citizens as “surplus population” instead of “fellow passengers to the grave.”

Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) and Patrick Andrews (Ghost of Christmas Past) in Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Other alterations: There’s a lovely trio in the second-act scene by the female guests at a holiday soiree given by Scrooge’s nephew Fred (excellent Anish Jetmalani). Ron E. Rains makes a very grounded and solid Bob Cratchit. Nathaniel Buescher’s Tiny Tim is as cute on a crutch as the situation allows. Vintage character actor Larry Neumann Jr. brings clever craft to his every cameo and Joe Foust (the loss of whose wife Molly Glynn the Chicago acting community still mourns) channels his pain into a magnificent Marley.

Joe Foust (Marley) and Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) in Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Yando’s only miscalculation comes near the end when he prolongs, drags out and overelaborates Scrooge’s rejoicing over a second chance. The silly business with fooling Bob Cratchit on December 26 is here vaudeville turned into tedium. Worse, it’s no longer necessary for Scrooge to scare people: He kisses his housekeeper and sends her screaming from his manse. Wrong move: The warmth and kindness that Scrooge feels out of conviction more than relief should be contagious, not one more sight gag.

The cast of Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.

But overall it’s smart and good that Goodman is willing to defy an audience’s smug complacency over Scrooge’s salvation. That’s the direction to pursue for the Ghosts of Christmas Carols Yet to Come.

Nathaniel Buescher (Tiny Tim), Ron Rains (Bob Cratchit) and Phillip Cusic (Peter Cratchit) in Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.

photos by Liz Lauren

Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) in Goodman Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Liz Lauren.A Christmas Carol
Goodman Theatre
Albert Theatre, 170 North Dearborn
scheduled to end on December 28, 2014
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Questions November 25, 2014 at 12:15 am

I find it laughable that you thought having boy Scrooge performed by an African American boy stretching credibility yet it’s perfectly fathomable that he flies back in space and time with an angel.

The boy who played young Scrooge was excellent and that’s all that should have mattered.


Chris December 16, 2014 at 8:05 am

Sorry, but when the Ghost of Christmas Past came fluttering down, the LAST thing that crossed my mind was that the director was trotting out bootjacking Aryans for “Kristallnacht: The Musical”. My immediate thought was that I accidentally drifted into a Victoria Secret runway show that was sporting their new Marilyn Manson gear. Now…I know this is “art”, and that if I don’t like it, then that means I “just don’t get it”, and that I haven’t taken enough grievance-studies courses or something. Be that as it may, I’m a “traditionalist” and I prefer the non-S&M version of Dickensian classics.


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