Let’s start by answering the burning question: no, for the first time in over 40 years, “A Christmas Carol” by Scrooge of South Coast Repertory did NOT somersault in her top hat in her reborn zeal. to spread joy.
This Scrooge, however, was delighted to find an updated black hat, one with a bright, cheerful red stripe and a design of miniature whimsical Christmas figurines.
With that being behind us, we can come to the noticeable major change to this perennial seasonal chestnut returning to the Orange County Christmas calendar: if not the torch, the passing of the hat from Methuselah Ebenezer Scrooge, actor Hal Landon Jr., who retired. from the role in 2019 after 40 years, to another SCR-worthy workhorse, the eternally bubbling and energizing Richard Doyle.
Beyond the welcome familiarity of the production – the group scenes with over 20 actors of all ages landed on Friday night’s opening night with special resonance given how bare our scenes have been these last two years – the key question was who would be Doyle’s Scrooge?
In 36 consecutive seasons of directing SCR, Doyle has had every opportunity to observe the role in real time, up close.
The actor has played many additional key characters, including Scrooge’s first employer, Fezziwig, his nephew Fred, the Spirit of Christmas Past, and each of the two lawyers.
And beyond that, Doyle’s thoughtful rendering likely stems from an affinity for the play that stretches even further back through the decades.
In 1954, when Doyle was 9, it was the first play he saw live.
The clearest way to convey Doyle’s portrait is to examine it through the three faces of Scrooge in this theatrical version of the tale: Grumpy Scrooge-Pants; visitor to Scrooge theme park; reborn Scrooge.
Though he’s capable of spitting bah, humbugs of bitter dismissal with the best of them, Doyle, from the start, on the streets and in his office lair, emphasizes stubborn logic and serious driving Scrooge’s misanthropy.
At the root of it all, he is downright angered by the sheer irrationality of all that good Christmas feeling, in every way the opposite of his determined and hard impulses and efforts.
Doyle’s resentful dismissal of charity benefactors, employee Cratchit and nephew Fred practically resembles Henry Higgins, a monomaniac ego wondering “why can’t the poor be more like me?” “
The least garish of the Scrooges is when, largely silent, he is led around the stage to tour the paintings of his past, present and possible future life.
Doyle’s Ebenezer, it seemed, established here early on in an almost surprising openness and willingness to potentially rethink his character’s bad manners.
Much of that stretching is through mime, with a quality of plaintive self-questioning through the actor’s body language and facial gestures, as if undergoing a wonder of “this is so.” that I arrived thus ”.
Happy Scrooge is clearly in Doyle’s natural wheelhouse, allowing him to radiate animation and camaraderie, invariably one of the actor’s draws. But what is striking here in Scrooge’s emotional growth chart is Doyle’s deeply displayed humility for his past and the treatment of others when he attends Fred’s Christmas party.
The end-of-game hugs Doyle’s Scrooge shares with Fred and his wife Sally are the ones given by a true believer in kindness and sentiment.
With around 50 cast members, it’s impractical to single out many performances, but a few noteworthy faces beyond Doyle include:
Another founding member of SCR still in the cast is Art Koustik, whose company pedigree spans dozens of roles over the years, beyond the original production of “Carol” in 1980.
Koustik’s primary presence here is as Joe, a street constant whose benign presence as a cider vendor masks a more obnoxious quality of bartering stolen items. Joe’s denunciations of Scrooge’s stingy manners at first are revealingly offset later by Kustik’s cynical glee at the prospect of being presented with Scrooge’s silk shirt in the ever-fascinating scene from “Scavenger,” which eternally channels the three witches of MacBeth.
To the sheer pleasure of the confusion and confusion, actors William Francis McGuire and Melody Butiu worked, presumably with director Hisa Takakuwa, a symphony of horror double takes, puzzled screams and “well, I don’t. have never! In reaction to the miser Scrooge cruelly rejecting them when they try to collect Christmas gifts for the less fortunate.
Even after fleeing their office, we continue to hear their dismay behind the perfectly microphones behind the scenes, the duo making wordless noises like troubled little forest creatures as they run away.
In what could be another production first, the Spirit of Christmas Past is played by a woman. Jennifer Parsons’ gray and silver clothes and her amiable demeanor make this tour guide from Scrooge’s early years a kind of benevolent fairy godmother.
Another ghostly new presence is the beefy Richard Soto as Spirit of the Christmas Gift, who last appeared in the role 20 years ago. His face is a sort of Bacchus of the last days; Sporting a flower garland, he pushes Scrooge to see the possibilities of letting the good times roll.
From the size of the drinking bottle that he casually shakes, the aging of Soto’s 30-year-old ghost from the end of act 1 until intermission and the start of act 2 seems quite understandable fact.
The still exemplary lighting design for this 41st season is once again the vision of Donna and Tom Ruzika. The couple – the only lighting czars this production has ever known – have been married for 49 years.
Another programming note: in addition to the 25 remaining performances this month, this production will return for the last time in 2022.
A brand new production, funded largely by a $ 5 million donation from philanthropist Julianne Argyros in late 2019, initially slated to premiere this year and then in 2022, is now set to finally be unveiled in 2023.
‘A Christmas Carol’
Evaluation: 3 stars
Or: Segerstrom Stage, South Coast Directory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Until December 26; 7:30 p.m., Tuesday to Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, noon and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Additional performances at noon and 4 p.m. on Friday, December 24
Tickets: $ 34 to $ 84
Information: 714-708-5555; scr.org