If you’re looking for an enduring local holiday tradition, Dallas Theater Center’s annual presentation of A Christmas Carol may trump them all. DTC has put on one version or another of the Christmas classic every year since 1984 — a run few other local events can claim.
It’s not hard to see why they’ve stuck with the classic year after year: The story of Ebenezer Scrooge (once again played by Chamblee Ferguson after a hiatus last year) rediscovering his heart and the true meaning of Christmas is irresistible, and one of the most widely adapted and reimagined plots the world has seen.
Chamblee Ferguson is a pleasure to watch. He intuitively knows just how much to push in every scene, and he elevates his co-stars because of it.
DTC almost never fails to wow with its reconfigurations of Wyly Theatre, and even though the set is essentially the same as it was when the Wyly hosted A Christmas Carol for the first time last year, the detail of it is still impressive.
DTC’s version of Carol transforms Scrooge from a moneylender to overseer of a coal factory, and the set reflects the industrial nature of that job, with ovens and pipes everywhere. But set designer Beowulf Boritt hides clever touches all over the place, including Scrooge’s bed rising from underneath the stage, an overhead track to allow for occasional flying characters and hidden lights that turn the Wyly into a wonderland at the appropriate moments.
Child actors are used liberally throughout, including as two of the pivotal three ghosts that visit Scrooge. However, it’s the use of Scrooge’s own mother (Sabina Zuniga Varela) as the Ghost of Christmas Past that is the most effective change from the book. Her guiding Scrooge through his not-so-pleasant history lends extra emotion to the scenes, as he is not only seeing the error of his ways, but also disappointing his mom.
Because most of Carol up until the end is a downer, DTC and director Lee Trull spice things up in the middle, during the Ghost of Christmas Past section. Although there is Christmas music sprinkled throughout the play, a visit to Scrooge’s old boss Fezziwig stands out, as the party he holds calls to mind a Mumford & Sons concert. It’s a toe-tapping folk rock interlude that also happens to serve as a nice setup for future interactions.
If there’s one qualm with this relatively short version, which only runs 90 minutes, it’s that Scrooge seems a bit too willing to be nice after years of being miserable. True, the change is no surprise, but a more gradual transition would have been nice.
But Ferguson, as always, is a pleasure to watch. He intuitively knows just how much to push in every scene, and he elevates his co-stars because of it. DTC regulars like Varela, Daniel Duque-Estrada and Julie Johnson are as strong as ever, while newcomers like Morgan Lauré, John M. Flores and Cameron Cobb make great first impressions.
After 30 years, it’s no surprise that Dallas Theater Center knows how to stage a great rendition of A Christmas Carol. It’s the fact that they’re always willing to try new things and not be bound to Dickens’ text that makes seeing the play again worth the trip.