By  Iride Aparicio

Photos By: Kevin Berne
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JAMES CARPENTER as Ebenezer Scrooge in A.C.T. The Christmas Carol

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Since we can remember, every December A.C.T. Theater  on Geary Street,  has presented a play version of  Dickens, THE CHRISTMAS CAROL in San Francisco.  At the beginning,  and for a few years, the original set of the play did not change and the production  remained more or less the same. With changes  at A.C.T. executive label,  however, the presentation of the yearly  production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL also changed.  New sets were introduced  and the cast  became more diversified.  One year the famous Puerto Rican actress WILMA BONILLA played the role of Mrs. Fezziwig very convincingly, and in another year an excellent  African-American actor played the lead role of Scrooge.

Since then, along with the cast, the sets for THE CHRISTMAS CAROL have been changed, and the dialogue and staging of the play, has been different.  And with each change, there has been improvements, some good, and others not so good. This year, there were a few changes and various results.

Let’s start with the sets.  In this year production, the sets are marvelous. Scenic designer, JOHN ARNONE, (aided by the lighting designs of NANCY SCHERTLE to light them), created sets that not only  make  the action look realistic, but that may  be changed in seconds.  

The music by KARL LUNDEBERG, is appropriate for the story, and  under the direction of  Music Director  DANIEL FEYER, well played and well sang.  The dances, under the direction of the Dance Repétiteur  NANCY DICKSON, are creative, syncronied nnd executed on time and on the beat. The costumes, designed by BEAVER BAUER,  such as the costume of the Ghost of Jacob Marley  (KEN RUTA pictured on the left below ) a pleasure to the eyes.  

A_Christmas_Carol_2016_04_web.jpg The  CHRISTMAS CAROL story does not change much on the first act. With a well-tuned choir of boys singing in the street, heard in the background, we meet Ebenezer  Scrooge (JAMES CARPENTER) working in his office, and see him (Scrooge) refusing  to put another coal in the stove to heat the room, to keep the fingers of  his employee Bob Cratchit (NICK GABRIEL) from freezing . We also hear Ebenezer  complaining, because  Bob is taking Christmas day off, and he has to pay him for not working.  When visited by his nephew Fred (ALBERT RUBIO) he calls Christmas Humbug and when Fred says Merry Christmas, Ebenezer reminds him that he has no right to be happy because he is poor. Wisely, Fred replies to his uncle: “and you have no right to be miserable, because you are rich.”

When visited by the Charitable (CINDY GOLDFIELD & HOWARD SWAIN) asking for donations to help the poor, and tell him that some people will rather die than accept charity, Ebenezer suggests that it will be better to let the poor die because if they do, that will decrease the world’s population.

On that night, when Scrooge goes home his “apparitions” begin appearing.  Marley’s Ghost (RUTA) sprouting  from the bed, did not produce the desire impact in the audience.  Some of us preferred  his prior entrances  (from other year’s performances) with his ghost entering Ebenezer’s  room through the wall or using the door, walking slowly towards his bed clinging and dragging his long metallic chains.   

The presentation of Scrooge’s past. Was wonderful in this production. From the apparition of “The Ghost of Christmas Past” (EMILY BROWN) singing, while dangling from a swing hanging from roof of Ebenezer’s room,  to their visiting different places. To us, the audience, the purpose of the act was to give us a glance into the past of  Ebenezer, raised as a lonely child that was blamed by his father  for his mother’s death (at child birth),  to the Ebenezer the young man who little by little begins changing his love from his fiancée Belle (DIANA GONZALEZ-MORETT) for the worshiping of money, specially,  gold coins.

The party at the Fezziwig’s Warehouse was lovely, specially the music, that was lively, and the dancing.  Very moving, was  the  scene that puts  the “old” and the “child” scrooge together. (See photo below  of CARPENTER and DYLAN PALMER)  showing the  “old” Ebenezer  pointing at  the stars as the  “boy” Ebenezer smiles delighted, and the “Ghost of Christmas Past” observes the action in the background. 

As the Ghost of  “Christmas Present, CATHERINE CASTELLANOS played her
Role well.  Her, depiction of Christmas, Present” howeverA_Christmas_Carol_ PAST.jpg  lacked the elegance of  other A.C.T. previous  “Ghosts of Christmas Present” represented by a sumptuously attired man  who is hiding Ignorance and Want under his cloak.

The dance with the Spanish Onions, Turkish figs and French plums (taken from Dickens’ descriptions of what was being sold in the streets of London by the Produce sellers described in his book) was creative. Fred’s Party this year, lacked vitality, but the  Cratchit Home, with DELIA MACDOUGALL as Mrs. Cratchit, his children and RUTH KEITH in the role of Tiny Tim was represented with the warmth of a close family.  Added to the story this year were a group of carolers, the Pub, the Miner Family, a Sea Captain and a cabin boy, a beggar child and the Fruit sellers. (Also described in Dickens’ book)

The adaptation of CAREY PERLOFF and PAUL WALSH, Directed by DOMENIQUE LOZANO (Based on the Original Direction of PERLOFF) worked well in the Past and Present parts of Christmas, but not in the “Christmas Future” part of the play. The Ghost of Christmas Future, represented by a silent Ghost completely dressed in black that this year was so big that needed four people to hold him up  (CHARLES GIBSON,  CINDY GOLDFIELD,  ALBERT RUBIO, and HOWARD SWAIN) was not impressive enough or scary enough to make any children cry, and its enormous size had no practical purpose

The cast of the Christmas Carol, at A.C.T. Geary Theater

What we missed in this production, however, was a better ending. The last part of this  CHRISTMAS CAROL somehow felt rushed. The so called  “gang members” (which are  those people who are pilfering  Scrooge’s belongings) somehow did not relate to the story in this version (unless you were familiar with he story) and neither did the so called “Business men.” Even Scrooge, (CARPENTER) who had been in character through the whole play, at the end went out of character on opening night, by laughing too much and exaggerating his laughter.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL this year was wonderful, but either its ending with all the principal characters together in the street in the last scene, or something else did not completely pleased the audience. On opening night, not even the shout of  the talented Tiny Tim (KEITH) sitting comfortable on his father’s shoulders, wishing us all Merry Christmas, compelled them to stand up for an standing ovation.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL will continue playing at A.C.T. Geary Theater (415 Geary Street in San Francisco until December 24.  For tickets call the A.C.T. Box Office at 415-749-2228 or order them online at www.act-sf.org.