He's back: that "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" Scrooge, whom Charles Dickens created and every theater company in the world recreates every Christmas in order to pay for the rest of their season.
A Christmas Carol comes to the Dallas Theater Center for the 15th straight season, bringing out all those characters who have become holiday staples by now. There is Marley's chain-rattling spirit, the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, and Ebenezer himself, "Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." At least that's the way Dickens sees him.
We all know the story, but Preston Lane, director of the play, invites us to think about it once more and reconsider its meaning.
"People too often think of A Christmas Carol as just a wash of holiday cheer, and ignore the story of Scrooge's journey to his redemption and rebirth at the end of the play," he says. "So I am really focusing on the story and letting the actors re-create the magic themselves."
Lane reminisces, saying the book means a lot to him. He remembers the year he spent in China teaching English, when he and a group of expatriates gathered in a hotel bar on Christmas Eve, "feeling lonely and sorry for ourselves," and read A Christmas Carol out loud to each other.
"For me this was more than just a ghost story," he says. "Dickens was a radical writer who was writing about politics and the way we exist within a community. To me, this is morally and politically a story I really believe in."
Dickens, at 12, saw his father imprisoned for debt, and left school to work in a boot-blacking company where he earned six shillings a week to help support his family. He considered this the worst period of his life, and the poverty he endured then helped shape his views on social reform in a country going through the throes of the Industrial Revolution. His sympathy for the working poor, and especially for children, comes through in the play.
Even today, however, it wouldn't be too difficult to find places where the conditions Dickens wrote about still exist, Lane continues. "There are a lot of Scrooges in the world," he says. "One of the major mistakes people make is saying that Scrooge starts out bad and then becomes like us. I think he starts out like us, only he becomes better."
The Dallas Theater Center presents A Christmas Carol at its Arts District Theater, 2401 Flora St., November 27-December 27 at 7:30 p.m. (3:00 p.m. on weekends and December 22 and 23); on December 24, show times will be noon and 5 p.m. Tickets are $14.50-$35.50, with $7 student tickets available one hour prior to the performance.