Thursday, December 10, 2015

Goodman Tidings to All: Yearly Tradition Begets a Dickens of A Christmas Carol -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
adapted by Tom Creamer
directed by Henry Wishcamper
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru December 27

I have no ready explanation for why I have never before seen A Christmas Carol, especially at the Goodman Theatre where it has run during 38 holiday seasons and I have been a subscriber for about a dozen years.

The show has never been offered as part of my subscription packages, but nonetheless has long been on my radar at this time of year.

Being Jewish, I was never overtly indoctrinated to Christmas entertainment--among It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and It Happened One Night, only the first is a movie I saw in childhood; the rest only relatively recently--but while I haven't often sought it out, neither have I purposefully avoided it.

As part of my Broadway in Chicago Series, I've seen such stage shows as White Christmas, Scrooge! (a musical version of A Christmas Carol, starring Richard Chamberlain) and even the Donny & Marie Christmas show.

Still, I can't claim any particularly festive spirit nor cosmic convergence finally brought me to A Christmas Carol on Wednesday night. Yes, I currently work just two blocks from the Goodman, but so too have I during several previous holiday seasons.

But having noted a good review by the Tribune's Chris Jones, again extolling the work of Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge, I just felt like I should see A Christmas Carol, sometime.

And abetted by a half-price, back balcony ticket--on a night when Goodman's demand-based dynamic pricing structure didn't elevate prices too dramatically--I now have.

I'm glad I did, and have no reason not to perceive this Goodman production was as good an introduction as I could want.

And while the basic conceit of a cold, petty, miserly man who is shown the self-destructiveness of his cantankerous ways by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future--with which I was basically familiar, though osmosis, Scrooge and various other derivations--could well have had considerable resonance at any point the avarice of the corporatocracy and/or callousness of political candidates affected me personally or societally, in this particular week I couldn't help but find parallels between Ebenezer Scrooge and Donald Trump.

Even Yando's oversaturated blond hair and orangish face seemed to conjure allusions to the man who has become contemporary shorthand for hatred, intolerance and inhumanity.

Written by Charles Dickens and adapted for the current Goodman production--I believe this is the 8th year of this rendition--A Christmas Carol is a powerful yet allegorically simple parable that suggests life is better lived and enjoyed when one exudes benevolence rather than malevolence.

Or, essentially: don't be an asshole.

And as the 2-hour show opens, Yando makes for a rather good one.

Or bad one.

But there is something slyly gleeful in his enmity, and when a child cracked up the audience by asking aloud, "Did he fart?" as Scrooge noisily settles into bed, Yando played along perfectly with the spontaneous moment.

Ron E. Rains, so good earlier this year as a different British father in Billy Elliot at Drury Lane Oakbrook, demonstrates why he has owned the Bob Cratchit role for years, while Joe Foust makes the ghost of Jacob Marley look and feel like an Ivan Albright painting (with credit also due costume designer Heidi Sue McMath).

With no ready point of reference, I'm not quite sure how to judge director Henry Wishcamper's interpretations of the three Ghosts--Travis A. Knight as a sculpted, angelic Past, Lisa Gaye Dixon as a voodoo-queenish Present and a mute, figural Future--but sense the choices might be a bit more outlandish than necessary, though mostly fun nonetheless.

A glimpse into a young Scrooge's marriage to a woman named Belle is an aspect of this iconic tale that was largely new to me, and Kareem Bandealy and Kristina Valada-Viars embody the characters engagingly.

Though Todd Rosenthal's scenic design wasn't as awe-inspiring as those I've seen at Goodman for other mainstage productions, it was substantial enough to--along with the excellent acting--make me glad I took my first Christmas Carol foray at the Goodman rather than via a smaller staging elsewhere.

I don't foresee that I will need to take in this show again anytime soon, especially with abundant theater options always available in Chicago.

But given its (ultimately) warmhearted themes, there's no reason not to appreciate A Christmas Carol, no matter if you're Jewish, Muslim, atheist or anything else.

And as part of the Goodman's longstanding tradition of colorblind casting for this play, it was perfectly pleasing to see actors of varying races, ethnicities and presumably religions playing roles likely once reserved for milky-white Britons.

Given his racist rhetoric, it is easy to sense Mr. Trump and his xenophobic followers might be none too pleased about this.

Which served to make me like this Christmas Carol even more.

No comments: