LTA’s A Christmas Carol Sings A Familiar Tune
By Rebecca Wheeler
Approaching the December holiday season in a country that traditionally breaks tradition—where the closest thing you’ll find to a “national custom” is the annual Black Friday stampede followed by several days of grim news coverage from the kind folks from Fox 5, reporting “yet another tragic Christmas-shopping related death”—where, let’s face it, the words “winter holidays” evoke more images of ski resorts, Swiss Miss hot chocolate, and blow-up-front-lawn Santas than they do of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary (unless of course they are in plastic Nativity form at Walmart)—one can count on little to remain consistent and authentic about the Christmas holidays outside the home; however, December in Old Town Alexandria, a stones-throw from my own four walls, means only one thing for those more concerned with the spirit of Christmas than the profit—the return of The Little Theater of Alexandria’s rendition of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol.
Leave it to America to merchandise the holiday season and spoil its genuine significance (see The Tricks Are The Treats)—leave it to a place like Old Town, where strings of lights fill the trees in winter, and a character like Ebenezer Scrooge, a curmudgeonly and stingy businessman who learns to “open his heart” to the joys of Christmas, to create a perfect-storm of holiday spirit.
The play chronicles the emotional progression of an old man, who, jaded by his past, has closed his heart to warmth and joy; Scrooge’s altered disposition is brought about by the supernatural visits of the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet-To-Come, who remind Scrooge of the importance of generosity during the holiday season by revealing the trials and tribulations of himself and others through a night-long spiritual journey of introspection and selflessness.
The original novella, written during the Victorian Era, reveals a nostalgic interest in forgotten Christmas traditions, Dickens’s comment on 19th century industrial capitalism; it has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and somberness.
Former Navy Captain, Philip Braedecker, gives an exaggerated performance of Ebenezer Scrooge, beginning especially curmudgeonly in his print shop, spitting “Bah-humbug” at everyone who enters the place (including his inexplicably jovial nephew), eventually becoming so transformed and in touch with his emotions that he thrashes on the floor in a pitiful, child-like outburst, at the thought of his previous wrongdoings and their karmic results. Braedecker’s melodramatic presentation of Scrooge’s most personal moments provokes bizarre, almost-horrific laughter in the audience—well, at least in me. Simple staging, period costumes, and an enthusiastic, 22-person cast of all ages, move the story forward briskly and brightly. The cheery Christmas carols and comical cockney-accented narration, interspersed throughout the one-act, keep the audience uplifted and entertained—so much so, that the tale’s depressing undercurrents, from recurring dark humor at the protagonist’s expense, to a constant, slap-stick reference to death and decay, seem little more than lighthearted, ironic, moments of merrymaking.
I always find those renditions to be the most hair-raising.
LTA’s A Christmas Carol is undoubtedly a familiar, comforting part of Old Town’s Christmas tradition, nonetheless (right up there with its twinkle-light-covered trees)—a must see by Alexandria families—that is, if you don’t look too closely. The show is as timeless and soothing as a chipped china doll handed down for generations by grandmothers past, that sits, eternally wakeful on your top shelf; she will always remain an icon of protection and security as you grow into womanhood—if you can ignore the eerie feeling that her eyelashes, falling out of her frozen eyelids, always give you at bedtime.
But in such an unraveling world—economically insecure (Fox 5 reminds you), but mass-producing itself into oblivion, regardless—A Christmas Carol holds together surprisingly well, successfully imprinting itself on the minds of its audience.
I exit the Little Theater on Green Street on a Tuesday evening following the precious, well-rehearsed rendition of Dickens’s classic, replaying the past 90 minutes in my head, as if through the distorted, fish-eye glass of a snow-globe. The painted faces of the cast smile up at me in my memory, and I smile back—but whether I smile at the sound of 22 happy voices singing a hearty Wassail!, or rather, at the image of a pathetic old man shrieking and writhing on the floor in a nightshirt, possessed by the nightmare of his future reality, I cannot be entirely certain.
Look for A Christmas Carol at The Little Theater of Alexandria next December for a little taste of the holiday spirit! Cheers be to you, and a happy Wassail!