It is often said art lives a long life, but it cannot be truer for this Christmas tale that has kept its popularity for more than hundred years. A Christmas Carol, originally written by Charles Dickens in 1843, is yet again brought into a new life on stage at Guthrie Theater. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the production of the novel, making the performance even more meaningful.
Upon entering the theater, one cannot help but be impressed by the beautiful setting of the stage. Since the story takes place in the 19th century, the antique houses and rusty street lamps successfully give off the subtle nostalgia of a fairytale.
The play starts with delightful Christmas carols sung by a group of children. It is Christmas Eve and while everyone celebrates, Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man, curses at his neighbors and his employees. After the routine ritual of counting his money, he goes to bed without saying a word of kindness to the people around him.
That night, in his dream, Scrooge is visited by three Christmas ghosts: ghost of the past, ghost of the present and ghost of the future.
First, ghost of the past brings Scrooge to his childhood when he was mistreated by his teacher and neglected by his brutal father. He also meets his loved one, Belle, to whom he was once engaged. When Belle asks, “How will we get married when I do not have any money?” Scrooge replies: “Why do we need money when we have each other?” However, Scrooge rapidly starts to change after meeting his uncle, George Marley. He becomes more and more obsessed with his wealth, without caring for Belle and his friends. Finally, Belle leaves Scrooge and he is left alone by himself.
While ghost of the past took Scrooge to his own past, ghost of the present takes him to the house of Bob, Scrooge’s employee. There, he sees how a poor family spends the holiday with love and joy. He also sees how Bob remains thankful and positive despite his lacking wealth and the illness of his son, Tim.
Shortly after ghost of the present leaves, ghost of the future appears covered with a black gown and smoke. The ghost shows Scrooge the day of his own funeral, where there is no one to mourn his death. Instead, he sees Merriweather, one of his employees, selling his property to the junkman. Horrified by the scene, Scrooge repents his past misbehaviors and promises to be a good man who cares about his neighbors and help the poor people.
Next morning, Scrooge wakes up as a different person. Grateful that he is still alive, he starts to appreciate his life and the people around him. He gives out money to the people he meets on the street, raises Bob’s salary and donates money to a charity. He realizes that money is not the sole purpose of life, but that loving human interaction is what matters the most in the end. The play ends with the finale, accompanied by a theme song and dances. In the final line little Tim wishes Merry Christmas to everyone.
There is no doubt that the story of A Christmas Carol itself is a timeless masterpiece; however, there was a subtle oddity in the way that the play depicted Scrooge’s transformation into a good man. Even though the scene successfully showed drastic change in his behavior, I could not stop feeling the unease from the way he changed.
The reason Scrooge was loved in the end was his money. The way he gave out money to people and the way they received it made it seem as if Scrooge was buying his acceptance with money. This sends the opposite message to the play itself. This transition would have been more delicate if Scrooge had been depicted in a more subtle and genuine way.
Regardless, the play was delightful enough to leave me in awe, even after the show ended. The play was filled with music and dances that are reminiscent of a bucolic town of the 18th century. The detail in the girls’ bonnets, puffy skirts and sweater shawls all added a touch of spice to the play and pleased the eyes of the audience.
Also, the humerous elements that are embedded between the scenes make the play more enjoyable. With the perfect balance of music, dance, stage set and jokes, two hours of running time would surely go by in a second.
Most of all, it makes the audience think about what makes us truly happy and what the most important part of our lives. There cannot be a universal answer to this question, but Scrooge clearly gives a hint; in life, the people wealth is shared with are more importnt than the money itself.
A Christmas Carol is on stage at Guthrie Theater from November 13 to December 28. The price of the ticket ranges from $17 to $116, depending on the day and the seat. For more information, visit www.guthrietheater.org.