TEEN AMBASSADOR: ZANE COX | DECEMBER 12, 2015
Charles Dickens. One of the most influential writers of the Victorian Era, with such classic novels as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and, of course, A Christmas Carol. Several of his works have been adapted into stage play or movie form (including A Tale of Two Cities), and A Christmas Carol is no exception. Nebraska Theatre Caravan has been performing this timeless masterpiece at the Zeiterion for over 30 years, and I estimate that I have attended the performances about 8-10 times throughout the years. In fact, the company is so consistent that it almost feels like you’re watching a taping of the previous year’s performance; And yet, they still manage to subtly change details (such as adding or removing sentences from dialogue) to keep improving upon themselves every year. The fact that they can pull something like this off and still have the changes barely noticeable is a feat unto itself – Every theatre company should aspire to improve every time they perform, and yet maintain the optical illusion that nothing has changed.
For a brief synopsis, our story begins in London, on December 24th, 1886. Here we meet Ebenezer Scrooge (played by), a sour old businessman who owns a counting house, formerly with his deceased business partner Jacob Marley. He seems to be disliked, even feared by everyone in the town, and despises Christmas so greatly that he responds to wishes of a “Merry Christmas” with his “catchphrase”, “Bah, Humbug”. Later that night, Scrooge is visited in his house by the ghost of Jacob Marley (played by). Marley warns Scrooge that he will be visited by 3 spirits, and the ethereal beings come to visit him throughout the night – the playful Ghost of Christmas Past (played by), the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present (played by), and the haunting Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The spirits show Scrooge visions of the past, present, and future of his Christmas experiences, including showing a future Christmas that involves his sole employee Bob Cratchet’s youngest child dying, and Scrooge himself dying broke. Scrooge realizes that these events can change only if he changes his own ways, and on Christmas morning, Scrooge apologizes to everyone in the neighborhood that he has mistreated, and happily celebrates Christmas with his family.
Of course, our society does not have the luxury of seeing the consequences of our choices ahead of time. This raises an interesting question: If we can’t see the consequences of our choices before we make them, how can we know right from wrong? It seems that there is something deep inside us – a sixth sense, if you will – that can perceive the difference of a morally right choice and a morally wrong choice. However, this is certainly not the case of old Scrooge – he seems to have thrown the whole concept of right and wrong out the window. We even hear him say such unpleasant phrases as “(Some men) should be boiled in their own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through their heart.” What has caused Scrooge to become so utterly devoid of caring? It may be his family troubles, his sadness over the passing of his business partner, his love of money, or possibly some combination of these. All we know is that the only thing that can cause Scrooge to change is seeing the outcome of his actions. In fact, he has such a dramatic shift in attitude that several of the town’s residents seem to think he has lost his mind – and maybe, just maybe, he has. Perhaps Jacob Marley’s ghost and the 3 spirits were all imagined by scrooge, as he seems to be about the age where conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s begin to set in. It’s also possible that scrooge has Bipolar disorder, as his “transformation” occurs in one night. There may be more to Scrooge than we think – perhaps this is not a tale of righting wrongs, but a tale of mental illness. In fact, maybe this is mirrored by Nebraska Theatre Caravan themselves – the slow descent into insanity. Doing something over and over again (performing the show), and expecting it to be different. And yet it is different every time, somehow. It also seems that our actor playing Scrooge changes fairly frequently throughout the years. It seems to be a reminder of our inevitable mortality – eventually, we must all take a turn at being our own Ebenezer Scrooge, falling into our own mental maelstrom, and pulling ourselves out. It’s one thing to tumble into insanity; It’s quite another to escape it.
Sometimes, though, doing something over and over can be a good thing, such as in the case of A Christmas Carol. Nebraska Theatre Caravan has mastered the art of improving every time, and still managing to stay almost entirely the same. Even if it’s just changing the emphasis on one word in one line of dialogue, I have never once seen a performance of this show that is less impressive than the previous year. That is something that very few theatre companies can boast, and something that always has me hoping for the return of Nebraska Theatre Caravan at the Zeiterion every year. A Christmas Carol has always been a classic at the Zeiterion, and I hope it will continue to be for many Christmases to come.