Horror and Euphoria: A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie

A dependable holiday classic is cheery, dreary, and full of festivity.

J.C. Cutler returns for his fourth go-round as super-grouch Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ Christmas tale at the Guthrie: It’s studded with plenty of festive carols, as well as both the cheery and dreary sides of Victorian London. With admirable charm, the show recreates this tale of morality and good cheer that audiences have loved (nonstop) since it was first published in 1843.

This production reminds us that A Christmas Carol is, at its core, a great ghost story (the Victorians were notably interested in all matters of the afterlife, after all). The first entrance of the spirit Jacob Marley, accompanied by violent eruptions of smoke and fog, is as startling to the viewer as it is to Scrooge himself. That unease is quickly overcome by humorous dialogue between Scrooge and the wraith (who, despite his great jangling chains, actually bears more than a passing resemblance to The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the Sea Witch). The next apparition, played elegantly by Tracey Maloney, is the sparkling and serene Ghost of Christmas Past, who enchants Scrooge as they traverse his memories together. This sequence is full of festive heart, most memorably via the jolly host and life of the party Fezziwig (Jay Albright)—who nearly steals the show with his lively step and ceaseless grin.

The narrative takes a sobering turn as Scrooge witnesses the mistakes he has made, abetted by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who descends from above the audience draped in an enormous furry green robe. He leads Scrooge through the homes of his nephew Fred and his employee Bob Cratchit, where Scrooge observes some of the finer points of humanity that he has missed for so many years: Both Fred and Cratchit make a Christmas toast to Scrooge in spite of his miserly behavior toward them. Just as Scrooge feels an overwhelming sense of guilt, setting the scene for the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Future, a giant, horrifying, reaper-like entity that never speaks but escorts Scrooge to a vision of his end. A haunting refrain of the Coventry Carol weaves in and out throughout, providing an eerie aural backdrop.

Scrooge’s utter euphoria when he awakes from these terrible visions is palpable and exhilarating as Cutler races from one side of the stage to the other, tossing bags of coins and bestowing greetings and gifts to passersby. It’s a light moment foreshadowed by the inclusion of the character of Merriweather (Angela Timberman), Scrooge’s disgruntled Cockney housekeeper who could use a bit of Christmas spirit herself. Clearly Scrooge isn’t the only one in London disillusioned with the merits of the holiday season. However, when Scrooge decides to begin anew, Merriweather gets dragged along for the ride and provides the most amusing commentary on Scrooge’s sudden transformation. When Scrooge spontaneously kisses her, her shocked and horrified protestations get the biggest laugh of the night.

Through December 28, guthrietheater.org