A Word In Edgewise: Of Workhouses, Prisons, and Redemption
Ebenezer Scrooge is neither a fool nor a coward; the shrewd business acumen that enabled him to accumulate his vast wealth may, in part, enable him to marshal the fortitude needed to change the course of his hitherto dour, cramped life.
Hewing closely to the text of the 1843 Dickens classic, Lavina Jadhwani’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol presents a more nuanced Scrooge than many of the Guthrie’s earlier 47 Carol productions. Enacted on a darker, vaster stage in a trimmer, less pyrotechnical presentation, Jadhwani retains the chill of the supernatural foreshadowed in the subtitle A Ghost Story of Christmas. The set is larger, darker, than in the past, the costumes more muted, though infused with a bold flair expressive of the period dress. There is the usual singing, and to-and-froing of Victorian London, yet there’s nothing distracting or overwrought.
Scrooge himself is less “Bah, Humbug” than Scrooges past. In his initial encounter with former partner Jacob Marley’s ghost (played hauntingly by Charity Jones, perched on Scrooge’s counterpane) he allows he’d “rather not” be visited by haunts. However, when he’s led into the past, he is affected—first delighted, then brought to tears seeing his neglected childhood self, comforted by his little sister Fan, the too-soon-deceased mother of his nephew Fred. Experiencing his own boyhood rejection, Scrooge now regrets his unkindness to the young caroler he shooed from his office.
This pang of regret, explicit in the original text, carries throughout his supernatural excursions. Scrooge here is not a passive onlooker being shown incidents from the past and potential future but becomes an active participant in his rehabilitation. “Spirit,” he exhorts Christmas Present, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. Tonight, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
Matthew Saldivar plays Scrooge younger than usual, according more with the age of his nephew, Fred, who after all, is his sister Fan’s only child. Scrooge was the elder sibling, but not by decades.
All of the familiar characters appear, the Cratchit family with Tiny Tim, the Fezziwigs, Scrooge’s former flame Belle and her husband, Scrooge’s employee who—in one possible future—sells off his bed curtains and burial shirt. The Dickens wit and pathos are intact, and together with the cleaner, starker presentation travel a pathway direct to the heart.
Of particular poignancy is Scrooge’s own yielding to the thawing of his heart and his willingness, nay eagerness, to embrace this sea change. Like ancient seed recovered and planted still flowers to bear fruit, or, more prosaically, the green shoot thrusting up through cracked pavement. Life emerging. Realizing how many hours his refusal to join Fred’s Christmas dinners has cost him, Scrooge rushes to his door to beg admission. These moments are all in Dickens’s text, and Jadhwan has brought them all to the foreground in a moving and extraordinary Carol, ending a Covid-enforced hiatus of 637 dark days on the Guthrie stages.
After Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one!” and resounding applause, the actors depart leaving Scrooge to illuminate the ghost light, a beacon in the darkened theater promising a renewed, brighter Guthrie future.