WASHINGTON — Few things are as jubilant as Scrooge seeing the light on Christmas Day.
It’s a joy we experience again and again at Ford’s Theatre with its annual production of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic “A Christmas Carol,” which returns now through Dec. 31.
“It endures,” actor Craig Wallace said. “It’s the 21st century, and we still need to tell this story.”
Based on Dickens’ 1843 novella, the play follows London miser Ebenezer Scrooge as he’s visited by four spirits on Christmas Eve: his late business partner Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. As these time-traveling spirits show Scrooge what was, what is and what might be, he transforms from a greedy curmudgeon to a generous soul that shows charity to Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.
“I don’t think Scrooge believes in any sort of supernatural [existence], so when Marley arrives, it’s truly terrifying,” Wallace said. “I don’t think Scrooge has been terrified since he was a child. … He was a lonely child. He didn’t have friends. He didn’t have a great relationship with his father. His sister Fan, who he loved, he didn’t get to see very often. … He’s built a wall around himself so that he doesn’t have to feel, and the arrival of Marley really shakes his foundation.”
As he relieves memories from his past, his hardened temperament gradually begins to thaw.
“It begins in Christmas past when Fan comes when he’s all alone at the boarding school, when he sees Fezziwig, and when he breaks up with Belle,” Wallace said. “While he isn’t completely won over there, he’s starting now to open up and allow things from his past to affect him.”
The thawing continues during Christmas present, as Scrooge sees his contemporaries.
“In Christmas present we see the Cratchits, who don’t have two nickels to put together, but they’re happy to be together,” Wallace said. “He’s never experienced that. He sees people walking in the street and says, ‘It’s a cold, gloomy day. Why is everyone so full of humor?'”
The final shift happens during a glimpse into Christmas future.
“He sees where he’s going to end up if he doesn’t change,” Wallace said. “There are few things greater than a second chance. Having gone through this entire journey, he opens his eyes and [realizes], ‘I have a second chance!’ There’s something about this that’s absolutely joyous, that he can use all the things he’s learned throughout this journey and have a new life.”
Speaking of second chances, this is Wallace’s second time playing the role of Scrooge.
“I won’t say it’s easier, but it’s so much more fun,” Wallace said. “I was nervous last year because I was thrown in with the cooperation of everybody in the cast and crew. Now, it’s mine, so I’m enjoying it more and it’s so much more fun. We’re really having a good time.”
Unlike other productions, each ghost is also given a human counterpart, similar to the Kansas farmhands in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). Justine Moral plays a doll vendor before the Ghost of Christmas Past, Rayanne Gonzales plays a fruit vendor before the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Stephen Schmidt plays a clock vendor before the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
“The gimmick with this particular adaptation is that the three ghosts are played by street vendors, who Mr. Scrooge duns for money on Christmas Eve,” Schmidt said. “He gets a doll from one, a bottle of cider from another, and he takes my clock. They go up on his mantle.”
Such a concept drives home the theme that the everyday folks in the street — even the least among us — deserve equal love and compassion. This makes it all the more powerful when one of the ghosts throws Scrooge’s own selfish words back in his face: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Maybe they should die and decrease the surplus population.”
“When Mr. Dickens wrote this in 1843, it was about thinking about other people in your city, on your planet, who are just as important as you are,” Schmidt said. “Maybe they’re poor, maybe they’re this or that, but they’re equal and they should be seen by everybody as that.”
Such a theme is super relevant in 2017 America.
“It’s so important to me, especially these days, that it’s based in compassion,” Wallace said. “Depending where you live, these days it seems we’re moving toward ‘let’s get yours and keep yours and those who have not, they just have not.’ This play is so much about, no, reach out, care about others, do something for someone else. It will serve you as well as it serves them.”
Each year, the show sponsors a local charity. This year it’s House of Ruth, which provides housing services for homeless women and children who have survived domestic violence.
“Craig steps forward at the curtain call and says, ‘In the spirit of Dickens, we are supporting this charity this year, and if you would like to, some of our cast will be out collecting,'” Schmidt said. “We raise a lot, I’d say $80,000 a year. … Dickens wrote this specifically to get people to give to charity and give to your fellow man. We are giving them an immediate [opportunity].”
Beyond your monetary donations, you can also donate good will in everyday encounters.
“It’s not just reaching out to the homeless or donating to your cause, which is great if you can,” Wallace said. “How about just going up to your friend or colleague and saying, ‘Are you okay? Hi, how are you?’ It’s the little things. If you’re moved by the piece, hopefully an opportunity will present itself where you can make the choice to stay closed or open up.”
Click here for more details. Listen to our full chat with Craig Wallace and Stephen Schmidt below: