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ISSUE 121 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/7/2007

Guthrie welcomes Dickens'

By David Sayre
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Guthrie recently opened its doors to the 33rd annual production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which showcases 42 actors, both adults and children.

The performance tells the beloved story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Raye Birk), who wears an old, fixed scowl on his face despite the Christmas cheer around him. On Christmas Eve night Scrooge goes on three mystical travels with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Through his travels, Scrooge becomes increasingly aware of his tight-fistedness and hardhearted demeanor towards others. Scrooge wakes up to realize that he has a second chance and decides to embrace life and the Christmas season. In the final scenes, Scrooge acts radically philanthropic and reaches out to the poor neighbors around him.

The actors captivated the audience with passion and energy. Led by Birk as Ebenezer Scrooge for his third consecutive year, he is complimented by Michael Kissin (Fiddler, Krookings) in his eleventh production since 1996 and Charity Jones (Ghost of Christmas Past, Mrs. Fred) in her fifth production since 2002. Director Garry Gisselman influenced the production's flawless reputation. Gisselman is also artistic director for St. Olaf theater program.

The costuming was most elaborate in the three spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Jones) wore an elaborate shimmering white dress and showed Scrooge reflections of his younger self. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Stephan Pelinski) had a flourishing brown beard and looked like a hybrid form of Old St. Nicholas and Santa Lucia. Resembling the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Pelinski) shared all the same elements, but conveyed a weathered look with pale, dirty grey hair. This final ghost's fur cloak was stained with earthly grime, and the wick of the candles on his staff burned low, symbolizing his numbered days.

The music in the performance brought the stage to life. The enthusiasm rang loudly in the performers' voices as they pranced around the artfully created stage. The choreographic elements of the carolers brought the audience to the nineteenth-century cobblestone paths of London.

Performed in the Wurtele Thrust Stage, the audience in every seat of the theater felt immersed in the dialogue of the play. Although the stage did not change dramatically, its multi-story set was transformed into various settings through the use of props. For example, the scenes quickly changed from Scrooge's bleak, yet luxurious bedroom, to the haunted grounds of a cemetery.

According to the program notes, "A Christmas Carol" was Dickens' first public reading and was given on December 27, 1853. Additionally, Dickens gave 472 readings including 127 performances of "A Christmas Carol," with his last performance in 1870. As a result of the Dickens' famous readings, he earned an equivalent of nearly four million dollars in today's standards. From the days of the performances first production, "A Christmas Carol" continues to play an important role in the holiday season.

This traditional story conveys the importance of compassion, unity and love during this special time of the year. For Twin Cities theatergoers, Christmas is not complete without attending this magical performance.

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