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By Charles Dickens
Adapted and Originally Directed By Gerald Freedman
Open your heart to Charles Dickens' classic tale of one man's ultimate redemption.
One of northeast Ohio’s favorite holiday traditions, A Christmas Carol is a perfect gift of theater for children and adults of all ages. Celebrate the season with the ones you love.
All patrons must have a ticket. Only children age two and older will be admitted to Great Lakes Theater performances.
A Christmas Carol is more than a holiday tale.
It is a retelling of the very human dilemma that many of us face. We often think of Scrooge as a stereotype: as just the mean old man who says, “Bah, humbug!” The character of Ebenezer Scrooge, however, is much more than that – he is a symbol of all people who close their eyes to the ignorance and poverty in the world. In the story, Scrooge is a strong supporter of, and active participant in, a corrupt and cruel system. He goes through life thinking only of himself. In his own words, “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business and not to interfere with other peoples’.”
Begin at the Beginning
It is Christmas Eve and Ebenezer Scrooge is busy in his counting house. His clerk, Bob Cratchit, works in the next room with the smallest of fires to keep warm. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, arrives to invite his uncle to Christmas dinner. Scrooge adamantly refuses, exclaiming, “Bah, humbug!” Fred tries to persuade him to change him mind, but to no avail. As Fred leaves, two gentlemen arrive and request a donation for the poor. Scrooge refuses, citing that taking care of the poor is the job of the prisons and workhouses. Scrooge grudgingly gives Bob Cratchit Christmas day off and they both leave for the day.
As Scrooge returns home on Christmas Eve, he is startled by the appearance of his doorknocker, which suddenly takes the form of his deceased partner’s face. It turns into a regular knocker again and Scrooge goes about his business, getting ready for bed. Scrooge is just settling down to a bowl of gruel when he is suddenly frightened by a loud ringing of many bells and the appearance of the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley.
Marley, doomed to wear heavy chains and wander the earth witnessing misery, cautions Scrooge to change his ways. Marley shows Scrooge hundreds of ghosts, many of whom Scrooge knew when they were alive, suffering the same fate. He explains that their misery is caused by their powerlessness to interfere for the good in human affairs. In life, these people had been blind to the suffering around them, only to see, in death, what good they could have done. Marley warns Scrooge that his own chains are just as long and heavy, but that there is a chance of escaping his own horrific fate. Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three ghosts, the first at one o’clock. Marley departs and Scrooge convinces himself that the entire incident was only a dream.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
At the stroke of one, however, the Ghost of Christmas Past appears and takes Scrooge on a journey through his own life. During this visit to his past, Scrooge experiences a great deal of regret. He sees himself as a lonely young boy, a carefree young man and, finally, as a hardened adult. The ghost also shows Scrooge the woman he once loved. Scrooge begins to realize that the love of money became more important to him than the love of other people.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
Scrooge is next visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present. In the course of this visit, Scrooge sees his clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his large family. The Cratchits are poor, but happy and grateful for one another. Scrooge is struck with a foreign emotion – compassion – when he sees Bob’s youngest son, Tiny Tim, who is sickly and crippled. Scrooge and the Ghost then travel throughout the land, observing gatherings and party goers, miners on a distant moor and sailors in a ship at sea – all celebrating Christmas in their own way.
Almost immediately Scrooge and the Ghost find themselves at Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s home. Scrooge overhears Fred and his party guests discussing his ill-temper and solitary nature. Fred tells the gathered guests that he means to continue asking his uncle to Christmas dinner, despite his rude refusals. Scrooge begins to realize he is only cheating himself out of happy experiences by not visiting. The Ghost and Scrooge continue to view Christmases throughout the world – from homes to hospitals to jails. Scrooge witnesses that each person visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present feels a greater sense of joy and hope.
Finally, Scrooge notices two children clinging to the Ghost’s robes. Scrooge asks if they belong to the Ghost, who replies: "They are man’s. And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance, the girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree. But most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
The bell strikes twelve and Scrooge is visited by the third and final spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The Ghost, tall, shrouded in black and totally silent, shows Scrooge various people discussing the death of a man who was obviously disliked. A group of businessmen laugh at what a small funeral he was likely to have. Another group does nothing but mention his death casually. Scrooge then witnesses several servants selling the man’s stolen belongings. Scrooge realizes that “the case of this unhappy man might be my own.” Almost at once the scene changes and Scrooge is terrified to see the body of the plundered and uncared for man.
Scrooge, overcome, requests to see some emotion connected with the man’s death. The Ghost shows him a poor, young couple overcome with relief that their relentless creditor has died. To purge the previous scenes from his mind, Scrooge then demands to see some tenderness related to a death. The spirit conducts him to Bob Cratchit’s house. Scrooge realizes the quiet family is in mourning for the death of poor Tiny Tim. Scrooge, suspecting the end of the spirit’s visit, begs the Ghost to tell him the identity of the unfortunate deceased man. Without speaking a word, the Ghost takes Scrooge to a graveyard, where Scrooge sees the neglected grave – his own. In anguish he cries out to the Ghost for mercy, swearing to change the course of the future.
Suddenly, Scrooge finds himself back in his own room and immediately sets out to make good on his promise. Bubbling with joy, he anonymously sends a large turkey to the Cratchit family, flags down the previous day’s charity solicitor and promises a large sum, goes to church and spends the afternoon with Fred’s family – much to their surprise and delight. The following day, catching Bob Cratchit coming in late to work, Scrooge surprises him by proposing to raise his salary and assist his struggling family.
Gerald Freedman reflects on his role as adapter and director of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
I had never seen A Christmas Carol on stage or film before tackling an adaptation for Great Lakes Theater Festival in 1989. The piece has, however, entered our literary and popular vocabulary as a metaphor for redemption and the possibility of change. So it was with great anticipation that I approached my job.
Our production takes place in a middle-class London home. It is Christmas Eve, 1864, Twenty years after Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. As the Cleaveland family sits down to the traditional reading of the story, the youngest child, a boy, begins to imagine the story that is being told to him. We see the play from his point of view.
Articles from the family home roam freely through Dickens' story and the child's imagination. The family fireplace appears in Scrooge's home; a desk becomes the workplace of Bob Cratchit; Samuels, the butler and also disciplinarian for the boy, becomes Scrooge; and siblings variously appear as other characters.
Dickens called the story a Ghost Story, and we have tried to remain true to this description, while at the same time creating an entertaining piece of theater.
Scrooge is a young man born into poverty who grows up distorted into thinking money is everything. He rejects his spiritual side and his heart becomes small and cold. Through the course of the story, he learns that he can change. The Spirits show him how loving people were in the past, how needy they are in the present, and that the results of his current pattern of behavior are to die alone without family, friends or love.
The three Spirits are each larger than life and haunting for different reasons. I see the Ghost of Christmas Past as benevolent: Scrooge first does not want to deal with the past, which serves as a painful reminder of what he has lost, but it is familiar and potentially warm.
The Spirit of Christmas Present is huge and expansive, as he embodies the entire world with everyone's thought and feelings on Christmas Day. The most daunting of the three is the Spirit of Christmas Future. He is connected to the unknown and therefore represents the greatest threat.
I think Dickens is essentially saying it is never too later to change -- not only yourself, but the world. One good deed, if allowed to, can and will spread through the world. The obstacles to the growth of a giving spirit are Ignorance and Want. As the poet Santanyana said, "Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it." It is this ignorance of the past and present which holds our downfall. Likewise, want of proper food and housing beget people who can't function properly.
In A Christmas Carol, Dickens decries materialism in favor of generosity and social responsibility. The enduring popularity of the story is grounded in his faith in the idea of change. Dickens portrays the obstacle to change as the paralyzing fear of giving up something and being somehow diminished in the process.
In the end, Scrooge risks squandering his money to provide for the welfare of others, and risks opening his heart and giving of his love, which makes him vulnerable to hurt, but which paves the way for his redemption.
Gerald Freedman, Original Director and Adapter A Christmas Carol
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