A Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre. It's difficult to believe that 19th-century readers would have laughed at Ebenezer Scrooge: to them, as to Dickens, he was a bogeyman who'd confused good with profit. But more than 150 years later, Goodman audiences have come to mock Scrooge as a crusty, penny-pinching curmudgeon, a blend of Jack Benny and Don Rickles who--twinkle, twinkle--really wants to be saved if only he can find the right spirit therapist.
No longer. This 25th roasting of the Great Chestnut, adapted by Tom Creamer, combines a new Scrooge and a new director in a sobering retelling; the result is new urgency. Scrooge's redemption is left in doubt until the end, and Kate Buckley's staging is virtually devoid of humbug, shorter and more realistic than usual, with at least four episodes set outdoors to save on scene changes.
William Brown, Goodman's fifth and most mysterious misanthrope, wisely restrains both the sneering before Scrooge's salvation and the cheering afterward. Isolated and abstracted, he seems as weighed down as Marley. Scrooge's plea to the last ghost (here depicted as Lorado Taft's Night statue) is preceded by the chorus chanting a chilling Dies Irae. More than any other moment, this one reinforces Dickens's secular-humanist message that we're all fellow passengers to the grave. Not everyone will appreciate the thorns in the holly--there are markedly fewer special effects--but this Christmas Carol comes closer to the wake-up call Dickens intended than Goodman has ever dared to deliver before.