REVIEW: A Christmas Carol

Sarcasm and wit are welcome additions to this classic Christmas tale

Only J.C. Cutler and Joe Dowling could pull off a sarcastic Scrooge. What might be interpreted as blasphemy in some theater circles is a welcome change in the Guthrie Theater’s A Christmas Carol. Technically, the big change occurred last year, with a larger-than-life, impressively authentic, double-decker-with-built-in-special-effects-fly-system set and a fresh new script adaptation by British playwright Crispin Whittell. But the alterations didn’t quite mesh last year—at least not when compared to this season.

From the moment he bursts onto stage, marching around and barking out reprimands, Cutler is Ebenezer Scrooge. And not just the dry, crotchety old man traditionally portrayed by actors tackling this old-as-time role, but a colorfully snarky and energetically animated businessman who knows what he wants, what he likes, and, most of all, what he doesn’t like. Cutler uses vivid facial expressions (his face is like that of a mime—you can tell exactly what he’s thinking before he opens his mouth) and body language to convey his Scrooge. And what a Scrooge it is.

One wouldn’t think comedic timing would come into play for this role, but in this presentation on this stage, it most certainly does. And not just for Cutler, but for many of the leading characters, most of which are played by Guthrie regulars. Robert O. Berdahl sparkles as Ali Baba, Mr. Bull, and, most notably, the Ghost of Christmas Past. Angela Timberman’s Merriweather is even more cynical and darkly hilarious than last year. Even Jacob Marley (Bob Davis) gets a few cracks in while exchanging quick-witted conversation and well-placed jabs with Scrooge.

Much of the magic comes from the extra flair that’s expected from all Guthrie shows, but especially this one. Mathew LeFevre’s costumes add glamour and gloom as needed; Scott Edwards’s sound effects add the chilling terror that accompanies Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future’s arrivals; and, of course, every member of the Christmas Carol cast is crucial in giving fervor, energy, and life to this tale, the most classic story of the season.

There’s a reason why A Christmas Carol has played on the Guthrie stage for more than 35 years. There’s a reason why Charles Dickens’s story has become an essential element of Christmastime. And, thanks to the dynamic combination of stellar actors, a breathtaking set, and gripping special effects, there’s a reason why this version (and this run of) A Christmas Carol is the best it’s ever been.

A Christmas Carol
Through December 30
Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-377-2224