Q&A: Compassion trumps greed in Ford’s Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

Craig Wallace as Ebenezer Scrooge and Rayanne Gonzales as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Ford’s Theatre's “A Christmas Carol.” (Courtesy Carol Rosegg)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'A Christmas Carol' at Ford's (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Where do you fall between “Bah humbug” and “God bless us, everyone”?

It’s a question we ask ourselves every holiday season in Ford’s Theatre’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic “A Christmas Carol,” which returns now through Dec. 30.

“It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s joyous,” actor Craig Wallace told WTOP. “The greatest reward is to come out after this show and everybody is so happy. They’re so glad that they spent two hours with us, not just the children who it might be new for, but the adults. They’re like, ‘I used to come as a kid and now I’m bringing my children.’ It’s a great way to spend the Christmas season.”

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.

“Scrooge is a man bereft of compassion,” Wallace said. “He’s not really in the Christmas spirit. … You have a choice: you can stay the way you are, or you can change your ways. By the end of the play, he certainly realizes that it’s better to reach out to people, to have compassion, it’s better to give than to receive, and that other people are what make the world go round.”

This year marks Wallace’s third consecutive year in the iconic lead role of Scrooge.

“I definitely feel like it’s my own now,” Wallace said. “I feel like I’m captain of the ship.”

Those theatrical shipmates include Stephen Schmidt as the chain-wearing ghost Marley.

“He has taken on this role with a sense of earnestness and a robust energy,” co-star Rayanne Gonzales told WTOP. “[His goal is] to try to convince and warn Scrooge of what is to come … because he’s already suffering it. He’s spending all of eternity having to pay for that price.”

The Ghost of Christmas past is played by Justine Moral for the second straight year.

“She is a delight in the role,” Gonzales said. “She’s almost like a sprite of sorts. What she is showing Scrooge is that these events that have happened before lay the groundwork for what you are, so having an insight into that might jog your memory that, ‘Oh, I haven’t always been that way. There was something else I was moved by, but something else closed me off.'”

Gonzales returns for her second year in the bubbly role of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

“I like to think of her as literally having just gotten here but certainly enjoying the party as she lives her [ghostly] life,” Gonzales joked. “I am reacting in real time with Scrooge. I’m aware that these things that he’s seeing are people that he has been unkind to and uncharitable to, and yet they find some way — even if he’s not there — that they are charitable toward him.”

“She opens his eyes,” Wallace added. “He says, ‘It’s a cold and gloomy day. Why is everyone so full of humor?’ It’s a true question, but now she’s saying, ‘This is why. Take a look. Actually look.’ When she brings him to the Cratchit house, she says, ‘You should know this place.’ … Then he discovers that it’s Bob Cratchit’s house and the love that exists in that house is something that he is impervious to. She actually puts a mirror up to it, which is fantastic.”

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives via theater magic directed by Michael Baron.

“This is how people are going to talk about you as a result of the way you treated them,” Gonzales said. “It’s bleak, it’s grim and there are actually people glad you’re not around.”

“He doesn’t know that it’s him until the end,” Wallace said. “Scrooge says, ‘Oh, I see. That guy could be like me.’ … ‘Let me behold what I shall be in days to come’ and there’s a crypt. He says, ‘Before I look at this crypt, is there a chance for me to change my ways? Tell me that is not me.’ Then he sees that it is indeed him and he realizes, ‘I don’t want to go that way.'”

This “dark night of the soul” epiphany erupts into the sudden jubilation of a second chance.

“When you get to that point at the end of Future and there’s a gravestone with your name on it and you collapse in a heap of tears and you wake up and you’re still alive, it’s a second chance,” Wallace said. “He revels in it. Typically, Scrooge is 100 years old, but I love that I’m playing Scrooge in my 50s because that means there’s a chance to live another 50 years.”

This second chance comes with a social epiphany as Scrooge realizes the selfishness of his previous statements: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Maybe they should die and decrease the surplus population.” Instead, he learns to reach out to the least among us, just like Ford’s’ charitable collection benefiting the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project.

“We are out in the lobby collecting donations,” Gonzales said. “I’ve been particularly touched by kids who come with their school. It’s a field trip, yet they are breaking out their wallets, whatever change they might have, making a donation. It’s incredibly moving. I found myself moved to tears … as people were leaving and being so generous, clearly lifted by the story.”

It’s the perfect reminder in today’s world that compassion for others trumps personal greed.

“In the climate we’re in, it’s a great reminder that it’s about compassion [and] other people,” Wallace said. “Scrooge says, ‘It’s not my business. It’s enough for a man to understand his own business and not to interfere with other people’s.’ That’s a mindset that’s prevalent these days. … It’s a great reminder that you can take care of your own business, but you can also open up, reach out and help somebody else. That’s why the story has endured for 175 years.”

Find more details on the Ford’s Theatre website. Hear our full conversation with the cast below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with the cast of 'A Christmas Carol' (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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