A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater

November 23, 2011
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J.C. Cutler as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

“A turkey?!” sputters the Cranky Critic, sufferer from permanent indigestion and squinty short-sightedness.  “There were no turkeys in 1840 England.  Ha.  This is nothing more than an excuse for the Guthrie prop department to manufacture an oversized bird, stick it on a bed of plastic crabapples and wheel it onstage on a—”

Hush.  Go drink some lemon juice.  Let the innocent and enthusiastic Inner Child write this review.  After all, A Christmas Carol (at the Guthrie through Dec 30) is a long-standing holiday tradition (we are now well into the third generation of happy Carol-goers).  And of course the play is adapted from a bona fide masterpiece by the great Charles Dickens.

There is something undeniably affecting about the cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge wandering, hapless and unheard, through scenes of his childhood, his ruined betrothal to the beautiful and loving Belle.  The Ghost of Christmas-Present shows us the Cratchits meager but filled-with-love holiday dinner – and the family’s reverence for Tiny Tim’s courage.  The unspeaking (and unspeakable) Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Be reveals a bleak Seventh Seal-esque future, with Tiny Tim’s death and Scrooge’s own lonely passing.  When Scrooge breaks free of his nastiness and becomes imbued with holiday spirit, we cheer.

The stuff really works and the Guthrie adaptation, directed by artistic director Joe Dowling and written by Crispin Whittell, doesn’t stint.  The production is lush and filled with music.  The opening night audience adored it.

But the ghosts!  Flying in pointlessly and why are there two renditions of Christmas Future?  And so much dancing!

Quiet.  Pass me that blanket.  There.  We’re going to talk about J.C. Cutler‘s wonderful Scrooge.  Cutler delivers a lovely and understated performance, with none of over-the-top bluster that one so often sees with this character.  This pays off big-time when Scrooge visits his past.  This Scrooge is vividly confused and lonely, in his famous nightcap, in sharp contrast to the insensitive and greedy persona we get in the beginning.  Cutler gives A Christmas Carol emotional depth – and makes the glitzy (and, all right, yes, occasionally over-the-top) production work.

The rest of the cast excels, naturally.  I was especially taken with Suzanne Warmanen and Lee Mark Nelson as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig.  They strike the perfect balance between shrieking theatricality and genuine emotional resonance.  They are delightful, and ditto John Catron as Scrooge’s nephew.  Here’s an actor who quietly takes the stages and forces you to watch him.  As Cratchit, Kris L. Nelson will break your heart even as you admire his feisty assertiveness.

Recommended – if you can get a ticket.  Call the BO ASAP.

For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.

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