By Montague Gammon III
Skinflint Scrooge is back at the Wells Theatre, along with his ghostly and human companions, in a new Virginia Stage Company production of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that features new music, new costumes, a new set, and a make-over for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
“Our new take on it is just a little more sleek. It’s still within the period but has a more sophisticated look,” says director Patrick Mullins, now helming his 11th iteration of VSC’s signature Holiday show.
Mullins is especially enthusiastic about the new set, which he likens to an Advent calendar with “the way the doors open and close.”
He praises the “brand new” costumes by resident costume designer Jeni Schaefer, and says that the new music, played by an onstage band, is “a bit more contemporary without leaving the period…a bit more accessible and diverse.”
For Mullins, music is “the connective tissue that holds the show together.”
Of course, Christmas Carol remains the same story about elderly, miserly and grasping (but scrupulously honest!) Victorian London financier and landlord Ebenezer Scrooge – a surname apparently concocted by Dickens when he wrote the original novella, which name has since become a synonym for the most extreme sort of miser.
Apparently seeing the homeless and desperately poor children at what was called a “Ragged School,” one of several such free and essentially volunteer staffed London schools devoted to kids who could not pay for available schools, prompted Dickens in 1844 to write what he formally titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas.
Dickens imagined that Scrooge, visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner and then by a series of Spirits, successively of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come – or perhaps plagued by a guilt induced nightmare – first revisits the Christmases past, of his unhappy childhood and the promising but eventually romantically disastrous days of his young adulthood.
The Spirit of Christmas Present gives Scrooge a look at what life is like for other people, and under the guidance of the final Spirit, he learns what the future holds for him, and what his legacy will be if he continues to follow his misanthropic road.
It’s hardly a spoiler to read that Scrooge becomes the good man into which the boy Scrooge might have matured, had not personal tragedies diverted him into reclusive selfishness. (He’s a classic case of a person who, hurt twice by love, forswore it and forswears any promise, or threat, of emotional attachment, wanting to forestall the recurrence of such pain.)
Scrooge’s return to social interaction, and to what we broadly term humanity, clearly mirrors the ancient myths and seasonal rituals about the apparent death of vegetation and animals and their nascent rebirth that are the roots of Winter Solstice celebrations.
Mullins says of working on Christmas Carol, “At this time of year and in what seems like a tumultuous year, coming together with a group of people to word in something greater…working with people who are different toward a common goal is to me a kind of manifestation of …the Holidays..creating something that is bigger than us as individuals.”
For Mullins the Virginia Stage Company annual rebirth of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol has also become his own “Christmas ritual…as much as going home for Christmas and Christmas dinner and going to church.”
He calls the show “a very upbeat and celebratory telling of our very own Christmas ghost story.”
WANT TO GO?
A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens,
Adapted by Patrick Mullins
Virginia Stage Company
110 E. Tazewell St.
(Tazewell St. & Monticello Ave.)