Daniel Gerroll as Scrooge and Noah Ross as Tiny Tim in the Guthrie Theater’s “A Christmas Carol”
Photo: Michal Daniel
Are you considering taking in the Guthrie Theater’s newly adapted “A Christmas Carol?” Read on to find out what the critics think. (click on their names to read the full reviews)
In the Guthrie Theater’s new production of A Christmas Carol, Daniel Gerroll’s Ebenezer Scrooge prowls through London making sarcastic observations about the world around him, enjoying his own acid wit and declining all opportunities to actually engage with the people who fill the city’s bustling streets. This show didn’t inspire me to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but it did cause me to rethink the amount of time I spend on Twitter…
The fatal flaw of this production–a flaw that begins with the script but is exacerbated by Dowling’s direction and Gerroll’s performance–is a confusion of tone that constantly muddies the story’s emotional waters. Every few minutes, Gerroll is given, and enthusiastically takes, the opportunity to make fun of something. This gets some laughs, yes, but those laughs come at the price of character development. Given that A Christmas Carol is one of literature’s most iconic character-development pieces, that’s a very high price to pay.
That new production, which opened Friday in Minneapolis, is darker, funnier and more contemporary than its predecessor. Though it is still set in 1843 London, Dowling’s robust, still-gelling production speaks clearly to 21st-century audiences…
“Carol,” which mixes theatrical styles, is infused with music but is not a musical (not yet, anyway). And, by the end of the evening, Dowling and his team pull off a difficult balancing act by transmitting the essence of the holiday story about Scrooge’s conversion from myopic misanthrope to giddy humanitarian while also illuminating its refreshed humor and heart.
The result is a charmingly entertaining re-telling that only occasionally strays from Dickens’s all-too-familiar story. When it does deviate from the original, it’s usually to inject some comic relief and freshen up Scrooge’s visions. I won’t ruin the jokes for you, except to say that Scrooge (played by Daniel Gerroll) is a more sarcastic S.O.B. than usual, and much of the play’s humor comes from his amusing irreverence. As he does when directing Shakespeare, Dowling takes small liberties in order to pepper the proceedings with laughter, even if it means sacrificing some dramatic tension here and there. Better a laugh than a lull is Dowling’s motto, so–though the play has been stretched back out to 2 hours and 15 minutes–the action bubbles along quite pleasantly.
Joe Dowling’s direction keeps the pace moving quickly. In this new world of sound bytes and media speed, the uptempo staging keeps your eyes glued to the stage. Blink your eyes and you may miss something. Daniel Gerroll’s vigorous Scrooge is something new. Gone is the elderly, crotchety Ebeneezer and in his place is a man of vigor and strength determined to continue his life’s work of amassing riches. Does it work? Yes, it does. Scrooge is the centerpiece if the play and his vigor keeps you locked into his journey…
The play walks a fine line between comedy and poignancy. The unabashed moments of Christmas fairy dust that floats in and out of the production still bring Christmas wonder. And one of the reasons audiences return to A Christmas Carol again and again is to try and grasp a few tinseled threads of that wonder. And on that point, the Guthrie’s production delivers – beautifully.
…Whittell has also added humor that sometimes weakens the power of key moments. When Scrooge is confronted with frightening ghosts — including Marley and the wonderfully horrific Ghost of Christmas Future — instead of quaking with fear, he spouts funny lines. We don’t get to savor the transformative scariness of those scenes because we’re laughing instead — and a comic Scrooge doesn’t seem very nasty. Later, Scrooge says he’s not known for his sense of humor, which is true of Dickens’ character, but not of this one.
Whittell has also included a sequence from Dickens’ original which is usually cut in adaptations — in which the boy Scrooge interacts with Ali Baba and Robinson Crusoe’s parrot when he’s left alone at school over the holidays. Although this conveys the idea that Scrooge escaped into reading and imagination to dispel his loneliness, it also makes it seem like he wasn’t really that miserable after all.
Have you seen this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol?” If so, what did you think? Share your reviews in the comments section.