Humbug in High Point
It isn’t supposed to be this warm. It’s two weeks until Christmas, and I’m trudging through the empty streets of downtown High Point, trying to get to A Christmas Carol.
The sun has warmed the air to a mild 72 degrees, and all around theater patrons flutter by in blouses and skirts. There are none of the heavy coats, scarves and hats typical of the holiday season.
That changes once the lights go down in the High Point Theatre. The cast of the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s A Christmas Carol crowds the stage in all of its Victorian finery. The women wear layers of petticoats, the men top hats and tails.
Then down from the rafters sifts something inconceivable outside the theater’s natal darkness: snow. The opening lines of Dickens’ classic move in like a front.
Marley was dead.
The lights dim and shift to the muted end of the spectrum. Children squirm in their parents’ arms, and my mind drifts to the ghosts of A Christmas Carol past.
The year was 2000, the place downtown Dallas. I was a 21-year-old intern at the Dallas Theater Center, toiling for the month in the Arts District Theatre, a metal, mouse-infested barn later leveled by the wrecking ball. It was the larger of the theater’s two performance spaces, big enough to accommodate the families from Plano and Arlington who patronize the theater just one time a year.
The other interns and I would walk from our apartment buildings closer to the Kalita Humphreys Theater on tony Turtle Creek Boulevard to downtown Dallas on ice-slick streets. We were usually hung over.
I worked the soundboard. The sound designer was a half-deaf madman who corralled every loose subwoofer in the city and jammed it under the stage. The play was a loud one. At the climax – which also featured a gigantic puppet of Christmas Yet to Come – small children squealed in their seats.
The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s version is milder. But it’s still A Christmas Carol, and as soon as the chorus starts in with the high English, it all floods back.
It’s amazing what a month of repetition will do for your scriptural recall. With the exception of a one-man adaptation of A Christmas Carol that I helped produce during my second season at Triad Stage, it’s been almost a decade since I saw the play.
Bu there he is. Scrooge. Bent over his account book, quill in hand, shooing off carolers and charity workers.
The story is familiar to anyone who’s experienced Christmas. Scrooge, pestered by the ghost of his old business partner and the three spirits of Christmas, redeems his wicked ways and becomes a paragon of Christmas spirit.
The Shakespeare Festival’s production takes place in the large, cozy High Point Theatre. On a Sunday afternoon, the house is more than half-full, with most of the audience confined to the plush seats near the front.
Lights bathe the set in blues and purples, evoking London’s winter light. The set includes a drop painted with an image of the Thames, and moving parts that shift to reveal Scrooge’s office, bedroom and cobblestone street.
I don’t recall much singing in the Dallas Theater Center’s production, except for the Fezziwig sequence, but the Shakespseare Festival’s version is chock full of songs. Most of the musical interludes occur during the third stave, when the ghost of Christmas Present whisks Scrooge across greater London, to the meager celebration of the Cratchit family and the high-spirited festivities of his nephew.
The play takes a turn toward the macabre when the final spirit arrives, cloaked in black and utterly silent. None of the children scream at the sight of the ghost, but the director pulls off a neat visual feat when the pallbearers of a mysterious funeral enter holding opened umbrellas.
We end in the swirling flurries of a Christmas reborn, and the crowd exits to the balmy streets outside. In keeping with my own Christmas Carol tradition, I head to a bar, and reminisce a little about my own carols past.
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