Dickens’ Magical World Is Touching & Terrific!
by Barry David Horwitz
A Christmas Carol is everyone’s favorite holiday tradition. Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story of transformation from greed to generosity still touches our hearts. Dickens may have been writing about Victorian England, but his tale of poverty and suffering resonates with our world outside the theater.
Directed by Peter J. Kuo, “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas” achieves beautiful heights of spectacle and emotion in this year’s inspiring ACT reincarnation. San Francisco’s leading actors are thrilling and bring a tear to our eyes.
Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (mesmerizing James Carpenter), concerned only with himself and his wealth, forges his own chains. Even the ghostly visit of his dead partner Jacob Marley (impressive Dan Hiatt) fails to get through to Scrooge.
Scrooge—even his name casts a shadow of doom—has to learn from the Ghost of Christmas Past (B Noel Thomas) that “the very notion of bounty is a miracle.” Scrooge berates and abuses his humble clerk Bob Cratchit (subtle, sweet Jomar Tagatac). The relentless boss wants Cratchit to work non-stop. Scrooge refuses to share his wealth with the poor, saying: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” He adds heartlessly, “I can’t afford to make idle people merry.”
As Bob and Anne Cratchit, Tagatec and Sarita Ocón, both superb, offer a heartwarming portrait of a loving couple. These delightful Crachits are trying to raise a large, loving, and hungry family on the meager salary Scrooge pays.
Scrooge also mistreats his hard-working housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber (comic gem Sharon Lockwood) who serves him loyally. When Mrs. Dilber suggests lighting candles, he exclaims: “Darkness is cheap. I like it!”
But wait for the magical moment when Carpenter’s Scrooge transforms himself from penny-pinching curmudgeon to giddy gift-giver. Our hearts stir when Scrooge gleefully discovers he can help out other people—and it brings him joy! No wonder Carpenter has been bringing this role to thrilling life for so many years.
The Ghost of Christmas Present (inspiring Catherine Castellanos), dressed in swaths of velvety forest green, delights us with her laughter. With her clarion voice and sweeps of her magical branch, Castellanos embodies a warm and welcoming Victorian holiday.
In this spectacular show, The Ghost of Christmas Future is played by startling stage effects that unfold to reveal ominous scenes of corruption and greed, followed by inevitable grief. The startling stagecraft shows us what will happen if the future is based on Scrooge’s selfishness. Christmas Future makes us wonder if we, ourselves, are still on Scrooge’s selfish path.
Brilliant actors, beautiful costumes, and magnificent sets make each scene a wonder. After the cold of Scrooge’s bed chamber, we are treated to festive and loving scenes. Ennobled by his new generosity, the reformed Scrooge comically presents the Cratchits with a turkey as big as Tiny Tim!
Scrooge’s generosity immediately transforms tragedy to comedy and poverty to abundance. The new Scrooge brings joy with his warmth. ACT’s “A Christmas Carol” offers us insight and empathy to see the world in a fresh light.
“A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas” by Charles Dickens, adapted by Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh, directed by Peter J. Kuo, scenic design by John Arnone, costume design by Beaver Bauer, lighting design by Nancy Schertler, music by Karl Lundeberg, choreography by Val Caniparoli, at A.C.T., San Francisco. Info: act-sf.org – to December 24, 2023.
Cast: James Carpenter and Anthony Fusco (alternating as Ebenezer Scrooge), Dan Hiatt (Ghost of Jacob Marley), Jomar Tagatac and Sarita Ocón (Bob and Anne Cratchit), Brian Herndon and Sharon Lockwood (Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig), B Noel Thomas (Ghost of Christmas Past), and Catherine Castellanos (Ghost of Christmas Present).
This year’s production features: Tasi Alabastro, John Chukwudelunzu, Khalia Davis, Itxán Steven Flores, Cindy Goldfield, Kimberly Hollkamp-Dinon, Jeremy Kahn, Kina Kantor, Adam KuveNiemann, James WDL Mercer II, Emily Newsome, Amanda Le Nguyen, Brennan Pickman-Thoon, Anna Marie Sharpe, and Howard Swain.
Talented young actors round out the cast: Jakub “Kuba” Adams, Vivian Amirault, Jasper Bermudez, James Coniglio, Evan DePalma, Ginger Dreicer, Wynter Gill, Danika Elizabeth Guinn,Monique Hightower-Gaskin, Olivia Kohn, Paloma Martinez Muhsin, Justina Mateescu, Xochitl Santillan, William Spitz, Piera Tamer, Rhys Townsager, Madeline von Treskow, and Alliana Lili Yang.
Banner photo: Catherine Castellanos, Jomar Tagatac, Piera Tamer, and Sarita Ocón. Photos by Kevin Berne