BWW Review: Craig Wallace's Triumphant Scrooge at Ford Theatre's A CHRISTMAS CAROL
It's that time of year again-and one of the city's grand annual traditions has returned to the stage, with fresh faces to add excitement to an already wonderful celebration of the Yuletide season. Ford's Theatre Society's production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, masterfully directed by Michael Baron, brightens downtown Washington with its irrepressible good cheer and optimism-at a time when many are in real need of it.
Regulars to this production may be more interested in the changes wrought by this year's show, beginning with Craig Wallace's Scrooge. He takes into the role with ease, and in the early scenes gives Scrooge an unforgiving edge. Dickens deliberately uses Scrooge as representative of the conservative economic crazes of his time, with Thomas Malthus' theory of population control front and center (letting the poor die, so as to "decrease the surplus population" was one of Malthus's guiding principles). But it is precisely Wallace's ability to show Scrooge's darker impulses which enables us to join him on his journey to empathy, and to rejoice with him when he discovers that he has a heart after all. Whether Wallace is pounding three measly shillings onto the table-Bob Marley's wages-or dancing a little holiday jig after his transformation, he anchors the cast and gives us much to be thankful for.
Supporting players give great energy to the production as well, including Michael Bunce as humble Bob Cratchit and Felicia Curry, who doubles as a Doll Vendor (facing foreclosure from Scrooge) as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future; her graceful gestures as she flies around the stage are truly memorable.
The stage welcomes other newcomers, including Barbara Pinolini as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Lauren Williams as Belle, while the young partiers Yesenia Iglesias, Eben K. Logan and Jonathan Atkinson join veteran Gregory Maheu's Young Scrooge for a delicious parlor game of "I Love My Love With an A". The children, too, all fresh to this production, match their charm and exuberance with disciplined stagecraft.
Lee Savage's iron wrought set reminds us that the tale takes place during the first industrial revolution, when railroads and factories-new technologies-offered tremendous advances, but at a tremendous human cost. Alejo Vietti's period costumes set the right tone, and the ghosts each have a spark (or a menace) of their own. Rui Rita's lights, meanwhile, capture the full range of emotions demanded by Dicken's story, and Jay Crowder has created a tight musical ensemble as choral director.
Another wonderful tradition with this production is the collection for local charities-selected each year by the cast, after careful research. So when you come to Ford's this year, be sure to bring some extra dough (or an old-fashionEd Checkbook) because the cast will also be taking donations for a local charity, Food & Friends, an organization that provides upwards of 1 million meals a year to DC area residents living with HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses.
Although it's traditional to speak of period shows like this as "escapist," I would say that the spirit of this show is definitely rooted in today's challenges. Scrooge's toast to 'foreclosure' and his blindness to the suffering of others rings especially true this year, when there is unprecedented fear for the future. Naturally we hope those fears prove to be unfounded, but there are troubling signs, and this makes Dickens' message all the more important this year.
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Performances are November 17-December 31 at Ford's Theatre, 511 10th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets call 888-616-0270, or visit: https://events.fords.org/productions/a-christmas-carol/#tickets