Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dallas Theater Center Brings Equal Opportunity to A Christmas Carol

Here's to You, Miss Scrooge
by Jayne Herring

The rant I will give every stranger-at-a-bar within earshot about this Dallas Theater Center’s production of A Christmas Carol is simply: The set and the music are magical, the message and performances are beautiful, the show and the theatre are gems of our city, and all will shock even the most cynical heart into the holiday spirit. But this one, this year, this is truly not to be missed. We have seen many versions of the classic Dickens story both on stage and screen, and although DTC’s version adapted by Kevin Moriarty is especially brilliant year after year, the one word I keep coming up with about this particular production is - POWERFUL. First I must give my fangirl shout-outs to those who delighted me the most, starting with Liz -freaking- Mikel. Hearing her voice boom through the Wyly Theatre felt like a big 'welcome back to Dallas' hug. I would pay to listen to this woman sing financial reports. In this production we get her as Mrs. Fezziwig, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and frequent ensemble speaking and singing roles that are impossible to miss. Sally Nystuen Vhale as Scrooge ranks as one of the best performers I have seen on a stage. More on her later. Alex Organ’s gentle voice as Bob Cratchit, Gabrielle Reyes’s compassion (as Lucy) and her ability to show a young woman’s slow withdrawal from humanity (as young Scrooge) both warmed my heart, and the 22-year DTC veteran Chamblee Ferguson as both Mr. Dilber and Mr. Fezziweg was a welcome familiar comical presence throughout. The rest of the cast, including Brierley Acting Company members, SMU students, and the fabulous youth ensemble - oh so important in this piece- fill the space with songs and all the feels.

But I know you all want to know: does A Christmas Carol work with a female Scrooge? I’m sure there are many who roll their eyes and grumble about a feminist agenda, and how maybe us Y chromosome-deficient humans shouldn’t be able to do everything the menfolk do. To that I reply a booming (and a warning) bah humbug. You do not want to go there with me. Yes, it worked, and Steven Michael Walters directing Sally Nystuen Vahle in the role took the story to another level. A female Ebenezer Scrooge, impressively never feeling the least bit anachronistic, gives new dimensions to an otherwise familiar character, especially at a time when femininity and masculinity have been challenged so publicly on a global political stage. Somehow the traditional Scrooge as an old and bitter money-hungry man doesn’t seem as disturbing or as interesting as a woman who has chosen a life of work and money over love and family, particularly in the Victorian era. She’s punished on a grander scale, internally and externally, a familiar modern struggle stirring up thoughts and debates from audience members and cast alike hours after the curtain call. For those who wonder if there a political agenda to this casting choice, I believe it is only the one that you choose to create in your individual mind. Granted it is easy to draw parallels to what we’ve seen in our country over the last year and are sure to see in the coming ones, if you want to. But it is most importantly, as it was always meant to be, a tragic and beautiful story of mortality and fraternity, greed and charity, cynicism and faith, detachment and family, the ironies of the Industrial Revolution and the endurance of the Christmas spirit. The original story was indeed political, and theater has always been. Be entertained or be provoked at your choosing.

Special Considerations: When deciding with whom to attend A Christmas Carol (because you are going, of course), please keep in mind that there are some disturbing scenes and I would not recommend it for young children. There are plenty of other productions for them. I did take my then 7-year-old daughter last year and comforted her when I thought it necessary and she loved it, but that doesn’t mean every child will. Use your discretion. I would also recommend attending with someone with whom you want to share the magical and solemn moments. Having a close friend or family member by your side during those Tiny Tim scenes (you know what I mean!) is helpful. As are tissues. Also, there is no intermission so order the double pour of wine before you get to your seat as that too will help when your emotions spill over. And finally, bring canned goods and a bit of cash with you. DTC’s production of A Christmas Carol has partnered with North Texas Food Bank for the 9th consecutive year, and donations will be collected in the lobby before (the cans) and after (the cash) after the show. If you get the point of the story at all, you will wish you had more with you. Last year DTC presented more that $138,000 to NTFB and I know we can top it this year. Come on and show that philanthropic spirit that I missed so much, Dallas!

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, Adapted by Kevin Moriarty, Directed by Steven Michael Walters Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora Street, AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District Running through December 28th, 2016 Tickets: 214-880-0202 or

Jayne Herring is a born and bred Yankee who fell in love with a Texan and the city of Dallas. She recently returned from two years in Laguna Beach, CA. with her husband and two little girls, and is quickly carving out a new life in the M Streets neighborhood. When not with her family (and even sometimes with them), she can often be found eating with friends, planning a theme party, taking a barre class, watching the news or enjoying theater. A passionate traveler and hostess, she is always on the hunt for what is new & interesting, especially in the arts. You can follow her adventures on twitter @jayniemarie and instagram @SeeJayneGo.