Tuesday was the first really chilly night of the season, which ideally would set the tone for the annual tradition of A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center. But there was something in the air last night aside from a bracing wind, and it was inside the Wyly Theatre: A pallor, a downbeat, a tone.
A Christmas Carol is, of course, a sombre story, at least at first. The curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge (Brad Leland) begins as a grinchy miser, and transforms into a man brimming with new hope and munificence for his fellow man. But the appeal of DTC version has always been its festive atmosphere; everyone around Scrooge seems to be enjoying the season, he’s the lone holdout. And that feels less the case this time.
Maybe is was the smaller crowd than I usually encounter (I went not on opening night, but a week later); maybe it’s the style of the production; but maybe it had something to do with breaking news that day that the show’s director, Lee Trull, had just been fired from DTC for sexual misconduct. Perhaps the cast members felt a bit of humbug themselves. (A few scenes, including one where Scrooge chases his cleaning lady around a bed, takes on awkward new meaning in the wake of the news.)
Whatever the reason, despite the post-show coda of a mini-rock concert of carols by the cast and a flamboyant performance by Jahi Kearse as a Liberace-like Mr. Fezziwig, there’s little zing to the show.
Trull actually does make some improvements in the script. He does away with the roaming narration telling us about Scrooge, and let’s the characters speak for themselves; he allows Leland (himself playing everything at a muted energy level) to be all versions of Ebenezer, from boy to youth to old man — living his past, rather than observing it; he makes the ghosts specific to Scrooge himself (Past, his mother; Present, Mr. Fezziwig; Future, Tiny Tim; I suspect the young sot playing Tiny Tim receives daily injections of Cute directly into his thyroid). Some other changes — the lack of spirited party scenes, for instance — are less successful.
Still, the message of A Christmas Carol continues to resonate; it’s difficult not to get choked up a few times. We all need a little Christmas long-about now.
— Arnold Wayne Jones