Review: The Guthrie’s 43rd Performance of “A Christmas Carol”

“A Christmas Carol” has said “Bah. Humbug!” to poverty and greed for nearly two centuries.

The Guthrie Theater presents Charles Dickens'

Dan Norman, Courtesy of the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater presents Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for the 43rd year through Dec. 30.

Haley Bennett

Good luck being a scrooge after seeing this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie. In turn chilling and warming, it’s the ideal old tale with which to welcome winter.

“May it haunt your houses pleasantly,” opens the play. And haunt it does. The Guthrie team — along with director Lauren Keating — captures the classic tale in a way that is both  heartwarming and a little terrifying, and manages to resonate with modern audiences. The play reaches out with icy fingers and pulls you into a wholly different time.

In the guide to this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” choreographer Matthew Steffens is quoted as having said, “My goal is also to bring the show out into the audience so that someone seeing ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the first time really feels like they’re connected to the story.” In this he certainly succeeds. The way the characters move with one another, the way they speak through their body language, shows distinctly when they feel loneliness, joy or fear.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, “A Christmas Carol” follows aging businessman Ebenezer Scrooge as he scorns Yuletide celebrations. Then, the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley, visits him one night. Marley tells him he still has a chance to avoid being caught in an afterlife of chains — ones made by greed and regret — but only if he heeds the advice of three spirits.

These three spirits are the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. They show Scrooge scenes from his future, should he go on living as he currently does, and this experience gives him a chance to see the effects of his behavior from a different perspective.

Gossipy businessmen dressed like Mr. Monopoly or children in torn clothes with trusting faces — for a reformed Scrooge, both deserve respect and consideration. He shares his wealth and his company in an attempt to learn what everyone else already seems to know: that it’s better to scramble for change and keep one another warm in the process than to amass lumps of metal that don’t ensure anyone will come to your funeral.

As is true of most fables, the goal of “A Christmas Carol” is to teach a lesson — to love thy neighbor, more or less. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because no more clearly does the divide between comfort and injustice become apparent than in the hungry and lonely during the holidays.

It’s no wonder that Nat Fuller, the actor who plays Scrooge, affects our emotions with such skill — this is his fifth year in the lead role at the Guthrie, after having been a part of the play for nearly three decades.

Impressive performances were also delivered by Belle (Leah Anderson in her debut at the Guthrie), who communicates with delicate inflections in the tone of her voice and subtle expressions that cross her face, and Fred (Ryan Colbert), who manages sweeping gestures and booming speeches but doesn’t overdo his character’s presence.

Maybe it’s just an old story, and maybe it’s silly to repeat old stories year after year. But after a while, the stories begin to feel like home, so these traditions give us of a sense of belonging. And the villagers’ merriment and good company, contrasted with Scrooge, whose “business occupies [him] constantly,” echoes our lives too. 

We break from our work for holidays to remind ourselves what family feels like, and in an era where Scrooge’s perspective feels more familiar than the other folk’s, a story such as “A Christmas Carol” pushes us gently into a place where love overpowers greed.