Until last Sunday, I had never seen the Goodman Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol” – which in these parts is like saying you’ve never seen the seasonal windows at Marshall Field’s/Macy’s or headed into the Walnut Room with your grandma to have lunch there while you gawked at the tree as you ate your chicken pot pie.
Actually, the windows at Field’s/Macy’s always sort of scared me – something about those doll faces. The tree at Field’s/Macy’s has gotten really disco fabulous in recent years. Scary.
And some people still make their little boys wear matching gold suits with bowties and short pants to have their pictures taken with Santa after the Walnut Room lunch. That’s scary, too.
Overall, Christmas is scary – and for that, and a good many trappings we associate with the holiday, we can blame Dickens and his story.
Christmas in this country mixes some gooey, idealized version of Victorian England with post-World War II New York, with Sinatra and Bing Crosby crooning the tunes.
Throw in some “It’s A Wonderful Life” while you’re at it. Add a little “Sound of Music,” some “Nutcracker,” a couple other movies from decades ago. And the Phil Spector Christmas album.
But back to scary Christmas – then Dickens.
Jesus’s birthday is scary because of the weather, the absolutely worst time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere for having people travel long distances to be with each other – and for the family drama that can happen after the planes land.
It’s scary because of all the shopping and how out of control that’s become.
And, most of all, to borrow another Dickens’ title, it’s scary because of the great expectations associated with the season.
Enter Scrooge, the miser who gets wiser, the model of what we shouldn’t be and what we can become.
Scrooge may very well be a delusional manic depressive, who, after a long bout of depression, has entered a manic phase.
Or, perhaps Scrooge repressed his love for Marley and upon his “business” partner’s death, Scrooge has become all the meaner for it. He is English, after all, and this being Dickens time, he couldn’t exactly propose to the man who haunts him.
Whatever motivated Scrooge, like him, we’re all supposed to take account of our lives during the holidays, do good things for the less fortunate, buy a goose, and have fun. But if you don’t have money, like Scrooge does, it makes it hard to to B and C in the above sentence, if not D. The ghosts get us all anyway.
I may have even thought about all this when I was a kid watching the Mister Magoo version of the Dickens tale. I was that kind of kid.
The Goodman production is more like the new version of “Doctor Who” than a 50-year-old cartoon, with great special effects, stellar production values, and a giddy energy.
It’s also fun watching kids in the closer rows try to bat away all the fog coming from the giant, shrouded Ghost of Christmas Future. That, and the door knocker which comes to life for a few seconds during the first act,
Larry Yando is playing Scrooge for his sixth time at the Goodman, and he’s pretty much what you would want in the old man who finally figures out the basic lesson of life – that it all becomes more enjoyable if we at least try to be nice to each other.
(We Irish have a version of this called reciprocity, which is how things get done, and a topic for another day.)
Yando seems frail, like the archetypical coot who yells at kids to get off his lawn. Yet, it seemed some kids weren’t too afraid of him, that they saw him more sad clown than codger.
There’s the requisite glint in Scrooge’s eyes upon getting his shot at redemption – and this being a fairy tale of sorts, those he has transgressed seem way more eager to forgive and forget than those in this distrustful age would be.
That cheery optimism out of darkness is the bow on the package.
Me being Irish and not quite as sold on the magic of Christmas, I prefer the less kid-friendly seasonal tale of another tight-ass, James Joyce’s Gabriel Conroy, who goes through his own holiday epiphany in “The Dead,” a story that ends:
His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
God bless us all and everyone, indeed.