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Gerald Carpenter: PCPA Theaterfest Goes A-‘Carol’ing

Musical version of Charles Dickens' holiday classic runs through Dec. 23 in Santa Maria

PCPA Theaterfest’s holiday feature this year will be a tuneful version of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic, A Christmas Carol.

Peter Hadres stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in PCPA Theaterfest’s A Christmas Carol.
Peter Hadres stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in PCPA Theaterfest’s A Christmas Carol. (Luis Escobar Reflections photo)

The play was adapted by Richard Hellesen and directed by Mark Booher, with music by David DeBerry, choreography by Michael Jenkinson, musical direction by Callum Morris, sets by DeAnne Kennedy, costumes by Frederick Deeben, lighting by Jen “Z” Zornow and sound by Elisabeth Rebel.

The PCPA production stars Peter S. Hadres as Scrooge, Evans Eden Jarnefeldt as Bob Cratchit, Erik Stein as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and with Milania Espinoza or Saige Gardner alternating as Tiny Tim. Also staring, many in multiple roles, will be Michael Jenkinson, Quinn Mattfeld, Andrew Philpot, and Kitty Balay.

A Christmas Carol has proven almost infinite in its adaptability. From the dazzling one-man stage version of Patrick Stewart to the hipper-than-thou special effects extravaganza of Scrooged with Bill Murray, from the gripping radio version narrated by Charles Laughton that I used to listen to on 78s to the lead-footed musical film Scrooge with Albert Finney, and all the adaptations in between — including my own favorite, the 1951 motion picture with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge — A Christmas Carol has come to us in every medium and format, live or recorded, and in most modern languages.

There is scarcely a culture on Earth where you could utter the name “Scrooge” and draw a blank. The reason is not far to seek: It is the most brilliant and persuasive conversion narrative ever written. On that particular Christmas morning, Ebeneezer Scrooge wakes up transformed, purified, redeemed.

Dickens considered himself a reformer, at least in his younger years. What ultimately emerged as A Christmas Carol began as an earnest pamphlet that hoped to shame Victorian England into doing something for poor children. He was acutely conscious of the pain and suffering inflicted upon the majority of English people by the unchecked violence of industrialization and capitalism, but he never proposed any alternative organization of society.

Perhaps unconsciously, he took up the task assigned to the poet by Wilfrid Owen — to “warn.” That Dickens’ passionate warnings have transformed the perceptions of exponentially more people than the intense, unanswerable analysis of Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England, published the year following A Christmas Carol, is about all we need to say about the relative merits of feeling and ideology. (If there were a recording of Charles Laughton reading Engels, though, I would buy it.)

“Whatever else Dickens may have been,” George Orwell wrote in 1940, “he was not a hole-and-corner soul-saver, the kind of well-meaning idiot who thinks that the world will be perfect if you amend a few bylaws and abolish a few anomalies. … [He] never imagined that you can cure pimples by cutting them off.

“The truth is,” Orwell continued, “that Dickens’ criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. … There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature.’ It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong as a system.”

If we ignore the supernatural framework, A Christmas Carol is simply the story of a man looking back over his life and discovering, with a shudder of horror, that, for all his financial success, he has been a miserable failure as a human being. Acting immediately upon this revelation, he completely reverses his priorities. From being “a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster,” he becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”

If there is anything resembling a coherent philosophy in A Christmas Carol, it is enunciated by Scrooge’s late partner, Jacob Marley, on his ghostly visit to Scrooge’s glacial bedchamber. Sitting across from each other in front of the dead fireplace, the two discuss the chain that Marley is dragging, and the longer chain that Scrooge is forging for himself. “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” says Scrooge, unprepared for the violence of the shade’s response.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

A Christmas Carol opens Thursday, Nov. 10 and runs through Dec. 23 at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria. For single tickets ($20 to $32.50) and show times, click here or call the box office at 805.922.8313.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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