A Christmas Carol and Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre. Any play set in a period more than two generations ago risks being labeled a "costume drama" and comfortably wallowing in fantasies about what always seems a happier time than our own. But in his four years as director of the Goodman's Christmas Carol, Henry Godinez has never succumbed to this safe but unchallenging aesthetic. His version of the familiar Victorian fable has always reflected human cruelty and pathos as well as elation and beneficence.
Last year a new Scrooge occasioned some unevenness--but it's more than rectified in this superb 1999 incarnation. Rick Snyder makes the famous miser a sinner more stony than sanguine, his withdrawn loneliness as piteous as it is repellent. Robert Schleifer endows this year's Ghost of Christmas Past with a delicate magic, Ora Jones's Ghost of Christmas Present glows with astral bonhomie, and Jonathan Weir, again playing Marley's Ghost, sounds the specter's fervent alarm but never loses control of his passion. Indeed, the entire cast delivers clean, crisply paced, carefully enunciated performances, making this parable of hubris and redemption an entertainment for audiences of all faiths.
Seven years in the role of Scrooge at the Goodman gave Tom Mula ample time to consider the smallest details of Charles Dickens's multifaceted tale. Among these was the significance of Scrooge's deceased partner, Jacob Marley, whose return from the dead precipitates the action. Mula's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, which he wrote and performs, explores the fate of this otherworldly visitor--who, it turns out, can avoid eternal damnation only by reforming his odious former associate. Mula's one-man show relates Marley's downfall--not by greed but by envy--and traces his salvation through despair, repentance, hope, joy, compassion, and sacrifice.
Under the direction of Steve Scott, Mula effortlessly navigates a variety of sharply etched characters--among them an impish companion for the reluctant missionary, a gruff accountant who just might be God Himself, and a Scrooge even more repugnant than Dickens envisioned. The show features plenty of humor and sci-fi plot twists, yet Mula never loses sight of Dickens's mythic themes and always timely message.
--Mary Shen Barnidge