Reviewed by Martha Heimberg
A female Scrooge, darkly dramatic sets and an outstanding ensemble make this season’s A Christmas Carol one of the most memorable ever at the Dallas Theater Center. An excellent and diverse cast of familiar faces and beautiful children give the show a strong every-man vibe.
Steven Michael Walters directs DTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty’s 90-minute adaptation set in a miserable factory with a menacing set design by Beowulf Borritt. Walters focuses as tight as a grimace on the change of heart of the money-grubbing old woman as she is given a glimpse of the past, the present and the future on Christmas Eve.
A woman playing the role of Scrooge is a dramatic charge, a jolting move from the traditional casting that wakes us up to the deeply human center of Charles Dickens’ message in the reverberating original novella.
Walters’ production also emphasizes the role of women in every aspect of the production. Marley’s ghost is a woman, and so is Scrooge’s only living relative, a loving and forgiving niece and young mother here, rather than a party-loving and good-natured nephew. The dancing and singing, choreographed by Jeremy Allen Dumont with music direction by Vonda K. Bowling, are all there in the visit to Ms. Scrooge’s past when she worked for a kind master, and when she is shown a party at her niece’s home. Even the merriment of the past has an angular, fleeting feel.
Time is moving and this old woman hasn’t much time to save her soul, as the London fog moves over the begging carolers and the smoke belches from the factory where she drives her workers to exhaustion and walks away uncaring.
Vahle is a compelling Ebenezer Scrooge, carrying us from his penny-pinching bitterness, oblivious of the poverty around him, to a reawakened, relieved and rejuvenated woman eager to rejoin life. Vahle’s Scrooge, stiff and impressive in her black cape, high-hat and tiny specks, is a woman of business with her eyes on the profits. The rest of humanity can go to the poor houses and prisons. Icy in her delivery, Vahle’s language is crisp, exact and uncaring. She’s a delight to watch as she gradually learns to look at people, rather than just the bottom line. As the redeemed Scrooge, she barely resists crying for joy, and then orders a turkey for the Cratchit family instead. It’s a convincing performance, supported by a first-rate cast, many of whom are DTC Brierley Company members.
Dickens’ novella is subtitled “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” and a terrifying ghost starts the action with a hellish rattling of chains. The ghost of Jacob Marley (Lydia Mackay) gives her former business partner a horrifying glimpse of what is to come if she does not change his ways. Mackay, a stunning woman with dark eyes and an hourglass figure, is painful to watch, as she pulls at her chains she forged in life. The scene between these two aging women – one a fitful ghost, and the other a shaken soul – resonates with the fear of death and eternal damnation more than any men I’ve seen in the roles.
Alex Organ is a handsome and sweet-natured Bob Cratchit, a devoted father who convinces his angry wife (a wary Christine Sanders) to join him in a kindly toast to his stingy employer, because it is Christmas, and that’s what the holiday is all about.
Other performances that add to the solid ensemble work include Liz Mikel as a commanding Ghost of Christmas Present and also as the merry Mrs. Fezziwig, flirting through a minuet with her jolly husband, played by Chamblee Ferguson with bounce and glee.
The muted colors of this production project a sense of winter’s cold and a factory’s gloom – and contrast happily with the glow of past joys. Jennifer Caprio’s period costumes and Jeff Croiter’s ’ lighting design go far in creating the mood of each scene, as we move from the terror of Marley’s ghost to the possibility of a grim Christmas future. Once more, we share Scrooge’s relief and joy with the blessing of Tiny Tim (played alternately by Georgia Rose Bell and Nina Ruby Gameros) with Scrooge and all his fellow travelers. This Christmas tradition in Dallas continues to surprise and delight in reminding us of the spirit of sharing and caring at year’s end.
A Christmas Carol is onstage at the Wyly Theater Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, through December 28. Demand is high, and ticket prices vary by performance; for reservations, call 214-880-0202, or check www.DallasTheaterCenter.org.