Dickens’ Scrooge has always reminded me, at least a little, of Shakespeare’s Lear. There is a similar majesty to his tale, although the outcome is comic rather than tragic, and he is, of course, petty bourgeois instead of royal. In place of vain munificence, it is self-loathing stinginess that afflicts him, and he is brought to moral insight not by three daughters but a trio of spirits. But he is, like Lear, reduced to a state of spiritual desolation and confronted by fact of his own mortality, coming finally to a deeper understanding of himself by seeing himself through the eyes of others.
One gets this from A CHRISTMAS CAROL directly, and no doubt in this or that version on stage or film, but more often than not the tale that Dickens told is made sentimental rather than disturbing and, oddly enough, nostalgic for the world that Dickens portrayed, despite its manifest cruelties. So it was all the more refreshing to see Blessed Unrest‘s CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Interart Theatre, which Matt Opatrny has adapted for the stage and Jessica Burr has directed and choreographed. It has in it the restless haste of Dickens’ doomed spirits and is largely stripped, like a corpse of its clothes, of sentiment or nostalgia.
Summer Lee Jack’s costumes prick one’s recollection of Victoriana just enough to ground the tale in our expectations of it, and Neal Wilkinson’s settings are composed of little more than old doors, detached from their frames and put to whatever use is necessary, as Crachit’s table top, Scrooge’s bed, or a slab at the morgue. The cast of six is shoeless, except for Scrooge in his waking hours, and they each, Scrooge again excepted, assume three or four roles apiece. Jessi Blue Gormezano (whose parts include Tiny Tim) and Joshua Wynter (whose first appearance is as Marley’s ghost) achieve the most variety in their transitions, she with her suppleness and he with his suavity.
The general effect is one of ironic impoverishment. Once the house is entered from the cheerily bedecked lobby, there is not so much as a Christmas ornament to be seen, and the most we get for a feast are glasses stuffed with ribbons and apples to be munched upon like guilty temptations. There are references to contemporary politics, but the dialogue is smart enough not to equate Scrooge, who is prosperous but not rich, with the top one percent or even the Tea Party – indeed, he is the one who looks to government for solutions to poverty and disdains private giving as inadequate to the problem.
In the role, Damen Scranton has the play’s final moment, as the lights fade, and the impression left on his face is one of deep perplexity. Opatrny and Burr seem to recognize that A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a tale of individual enlightenment, in which Scrooge is brought from a state of self-denial to one of personal generosity, but that it ought not to be sentimentalized, for there are many others to be told, and with sadder endings.