A CHRISTMAS CAROL: LB SHAKESPEARE’S HOLIDAY MIRACLE CLOSES SUNDAY!By Greggory Moore
Two years ago in The District Weekly I reviewed—quite positively—a Long Beach Shakespeare production of A Christmas Carol put on at the Expo Building in Bixby Knolls. Hearing they were attempting the same show within the tiny confines of the Richard Goad Theatre across gave me cause for concern. Would they be able to evoke all of the offices and homes, the snow-dusted streets of Victorian London, the expanse of time and space traversed by Scrooge and ghostly visitors his ghostly visitors?
The short answer: this isn’t the same show, and it works out just fine.
A difference between this production of A Christmas Carol and other stage and film versions I’ve seen (including the aforementioned) is that here director Helen Borgers has incorporated much of Dickens as narrator, parceling it out between a half-dozen cast members who seamlessly transition between narrative and action.
This touches on the main reason this Christmas Carol is so successful: Borgers has fluidly and joyously blocked this show, with the actors flowing around each other and in and out of character and narrative. When a cast of 10 does a story involving over 60 distinct souls, you damn-well-better be creative about it. God bless us, LB Shakespeare is.
That we have little trouble suspending our disbelief as the actors change from one character to another with minimal help from (e.g.) costume changes (there simply isn’t time!) is a tribute to a fine cast. We’re never set to wondering who’s who, even when it’s something like Scrooge’s sister and his fiancée being played by the same actor in the same overall scene. Everything just flows.
An actor who has only one job—playing Scrooge—is Richard MacPherson, and he does it with a wiry curmudgeonliness that endears us to him (perhaps because we know his reformation is coming), even as we want to throw tomatoes at his pouty puss. If there’s a weakness in his performance, it’s that he’s so good during the first four-fifths of the play (viz., as a right bastard, then as a guy who is frigid humanity thawing to life) that he seems to have a little trouble becoming Good Scrooge, remaining a bit too tense or something. As the production progresses (I saw a preview), I hope MacPherson will be able to interpret the Scrooge of play’s end as being a bit more loosey-goosey.
LB Shake has kept the mise en scène minimal—a smart choice, considering their focus is narrative. But Ashley Marquand’s costuming (I guess it wasn’t enough that she played five characters and handled some of the narrative) is a bit more elaborate than I would have expected for such a small production, and it really dresses up the proceedings nicely.
As for the story itself? Well, you already know it. But maybe not as well as you think. Remember the bit from “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”? Recall the songs of the miners and the lighthouse keepers? Neither did I. Borgers’s choice of what to include from the original text that has been typically excluded in 168 years since it was published gives us both greater insight into Scrooge’s make-up and serves to better drive home the specific themes.
As Scrooge’s nephew says early on, Christmastime induces us “to think of people below [us] as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” It’s a lesson that in the end is not lost on Scrooge. “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” he says. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
We know before we walk into the theatre that Scrooge will change course in the St. Nick of time and make mankind his business the whole year ’round. But seeing it happen is a touching reminder of what’s so easy to forget: we are forging our lives link by link, moment by moment. And it would be a hell of our own making to find when it’s too late that we’ve chained ourselves to that which doesn’t really matter.
If there’s a universal Christmas carol, it’s that other people matter. LB Shakespeare is hoping you’ll sing with them this year. A little less time at Walmart and a little more in the theatre might do you good.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL LONG BEACH SHAKESPEARE CO. • 4350 ATLANTIC AVE • LONG BEACH 90807 • 562.997.1494 LBSHAKESPEARE.ORG • WED-FRI 8PM, SAT 3PM & 8PM, SUN 2PM (EXCEPT DEC 4 IS 8PM) • $20; $10 FOR STUDENTS • THROUGH DEC 18