A Christmas Carol: Savoring Scrooge

The International Theater stages the A Christmas Carol for the 23rd Year

On The Town | Marlies Dachler | December 2007 / January 2008

Kevin Brock as Scrooge in his later years (lower right). (Photos: The International Theater)

But I was already in the mood long before the opening sallies. Walking down the glittering staircase to the strains of Bing Crosby’s "Joy to the World," I immediately started humming. Inside, I found a seat at one of the blue Jugendstil tables in the little café and soaked in the scene, the golden tinsel, wreaths, Christmas flowers and fir boughs. Between sips of hot punch, I noticed a cute old couple, nestled on the couch in the corner, toasting each other with glasses of wine. At the bar, people fell into conversation, and all generations from children to pensioners mingled easily in the festive setting.

At 19:30, people hastened to take their seats in the small performance space, which blends almost seamlessly with the stage, allowing constant interaction between the actors and the audience.

A "savage beast that crunches and grouches occasionally and walks about the streets of London," Ebenezer Scrooge (Kevin Brock), dressed in a traditional tuxedo with the golden chain of his pocket watch sticking out of his left pocket, appears on stage and reminds the audience with his irascible voice to turn off their cell phones: "arrrrggghhh…turn it off. I’ll be watching youuuu!"

A Christmas Carol is based on a novella by Charles Dickens set at Christmas time in 1843. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man with features frozen by the cold within him, owns a business that he rules with a will of iron and a heart of ice. He detests Christmas and lets his misery spill over on everyone around him.

On Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts: the ghost of Christmas past (Laura Mitchell), the ghost of Christmas present (Marilyn Close), and the ghost of Christmas future (Gene De Wild). Challenged and ultimately moved by the scenes of his life he has seen during the visits of the ghosts, Scrooge is converted and promises "to honor Christmas in [his] heart and try to keep it all the year."

The play ends with all the characters celebrating Christmas at Srcooge’s nephew Fred’s (Eric Lomas) house, singing Christmas songs in German and English.

Functioning as a parable, A Christmas Carol raises the Christian moral values associated with Christmas: generosity, kindness, and universal love for others. It illustrates how even self-centered people like Scrooge can turn into charitable, and caring people if they become aware of the sorrow they radiate.

In the Victorian era, in which the play is set, poverty and ignorance flourished, driving a deep wedge between the richest and poorest classes in England. Living conditions in all major cities in Great Britain deteriorated because of pollution.

By using the story of the Cratchits (Jack Babb, Laura Mitchell, Eric Lomas, and Amanda Wilkins), the family of Scrooge’s clerk Bob, as a pivotal part of Scrooge’s transformation, Dickens illustrates that even in the face of extreme poverty, the Christmas season can inspire good will and generosity towards one’s fellow men.

Christmas traditions, however, had been in decline for a century when Dickens wrote the story. Therefore, the success of the novella, which has been beloved since it first appeared and has remained so ever since, came as a surprise to the author, and guaranteed the young writer, who had been born into a struggling middle-class family, financial security probably for the first time in his life.

With over 6,000 copies sold within a week of its publication on Dec. 19, 1843, A Christmas Carol has become one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time.

The 23rd production of the novella in play form at the International Theater casts a spell over its audience through its talented cast and witty staging by Jack Babb, who also plays four characters, switching identities seamlessly from scene to scene.

However it is the thoroughly winning performance of Brock as the misanthropic Scrooge that charms the audience most.

Scrooge is brought into ridicule right from the beginning, when he lurks about the darkened stage in search of his lodging, fidgeting with his cane as if he was mowing grass. He "goes to bed without undressing," narrator Babb tells us, "because it is a family show." Scrooge, who looks puzzled, answers "humbug," as usual, and puts on a reddish purple nightgown and a droll white night cap.

"I just loved how Brock played Scrooge," one elderly woman confides. "He’s so convincing, and so comical. What a mimic!"

The stage, which is incorporated into the arches of the cellar, is simple, but the scenery, consisting of two tables in Scrooge’s warehouse, a bed and a bedside table in Scrooge’s bedroom, and a gravestone, is functional and very versatile and can be switched around quickly.

The accessories, among them an old book, a quill pen, and many candles, help create the atmosphere of  Dickens’ 19th century London.

As Scrooge’s mood brightens, the Christmas spirit becomes contagious, and everyone happily joins in singing carols and wishing each other a merry Christmas.

Leaving the theater, it’s hard not to feel swept up in warmth, where all the earthly problems are forgotten. Faces glow as people share experiences. Walking back to my car, I hear fellow spectators say that they will certainly come back to watch the 24th production of A Christmas Carol next year. So will I.

For reviews of other performances of A Christmas Carol, see:

"The Immortal ‘Carol’" in TVR Dec/Jan 2008/09

"Scrooge’s Christmas" in TVR Dec/Jan 2006/07

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    the vienna review December 2007 / January 2008