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BWW Reviews: A.C.T.'s A CHRISTMAS CAROL Delights!

The San Francisco tradition of attending A.C.T.'s production of A Christmas Carol is almost as necessary as hanging Christmas stockings over the hearth and having a twinkling, festooned Douglas Fir take pride of place in the living room. Yes, it is playing in many other venues, but the gold-leafed, handsome, Beaux Arts-style design of the theatre lends itself marvelously to a festive night out and the multigenerational, multiracial cast is a joy to behold. And, given the last election cycle -- which brought the right-wing contempt for the working poor to the fore - this timeless classis is especially relevant. Playing now through December 24, the message and the magic of A.C.T's A Christmas Carol will delight and inspire children of all ages.

Artistic director Carey Perloff and dramaturge Paul Walsh do a fine adaptation of the Charles Dickens' original, creating a more humorous slant without obstructing the "scrooginess" of the classic. Beloved veteran actor James Carpenter's Ebenezer Scrooge, who doles out disparaging remarks about the poor and denounces them as "surplus population," is met with laughter from the audience. We're in on the joke; we know what is going to happen.

Sharon Lockwood adds to the mirth in the perfectly plummy role of Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge's long-suffering but cheery housekeeper. She's not afraid of his curmudgeonly scowls and simply repeats many of his blustery, biting words (in lieu of conversation) as she gets his dinner and readies him for bed before departing for the night.

Alone in his bedchamber, Scrooge decries the season yet again, but when long-dead business partner Jacob Marley (Ken Ruta) makes his chain-dragging, ghostly appearance, the mood shifts dramatically. Marley's there to warn Ebenezer of the fate that awaits him if he doesn't change his ways - though it takes a while for Scrooge to believe that his old friend isn't just the work of a bit of undigested beef.

Three spirits will aid in the "intervention" - the Ghost of Christmas Past (ethereal Rebekah Brockman), the Ghost of Christmas Present (a delightful Omozé Idehendre) and the Ghost of Christmas Future (a massive puppet manipulated by Cindy Goldfield, Louis Kehoe, Nick Steen, Howard Swain and Titus Tompkins).

What follows is a look back over Scrooge's life (and a peek into the future). His childhood traumas as well as his youthful romance with Belle (Allegra Rose Edwards) and friendship with Dick Wilkins (Titus Tomkins), who works with him for the generous and gregarious Fezziwigs (Jarion Monroe and Sharon Lockwood are a delight in these roles) are shown to him. Somewhere along the way young Scrooge (Louie Kehoe and then Raymond Castelán) chooses career over lasting relationships and seems destined to seal his fate as a man who will be mourned by none.

Surely Scrooge's assistant Bob Cratchit (Nicholas Pelczar is perfect in this quiet, humble part) has the most reason to wish his boss ill, but he doesn't. Instead he focuses on his family, especially his youngest, Tiny Tim (charming Carmen Steele), who wears a leg-brace and is sickly.

An inventive set design by John Arnone adds to the magic though I was somewhat taken aback by the choice of pastel blues, pinks and purples that were employed to bring the mean streets of Victorian London alive. Still, Arone creates movement with the design that truly complements Domenique Lozano's nicely paced direction. Music by Karl Lundeberg (music direction by Robert K. Rutt) and the simple choreography by Val Caniparoli add holiday cheer as does the large, wonderful cast.

As the oft-told tale reaches its conclusion and Scrooge has a change of heart, we are delighted when a shocked Bob Cratchit says to him, "Have you lost your senses?" To which a humbled and happy Scrooge replies, "No, Bob, I've come to them."

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 at a time when poverty and hunger were surely the lot of 99% of the people. Debtor's prison was something the author's own family endured. Although we no longer put people behind bars for being poor - foreclosures, bankruptcy, hardship and classism, are just as surely prisons in our own day. But the wonder and whimsy of A.C.T.'s A Christmas Carol reminds us that there is hope and that there is still time to change. Take the family (and maybe some of your conservative relatives) to see this show and start a new tradition, or continue an old one, this holiday season. As Tiny Tim would say, "God bless us, everyone!"

By Charles Dickens
Now through Dec. 24, 2012
Adapted by Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh
Directed by Domenique Lozano
Presented by The American Conservatory Theatre
Geary Theatre
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne

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From This Author Linda Hodges