Review: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at A.C.T. (***)

The icy heart of James Carpenter’s Ebeneezer Scrooge is no match for the warmth of Catherine Castellanos as the Ghost of Christmas Present, who knows how to heat things up.

by Charles Kruger

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

A.C.T. first produced “A Christmas Carol” in 1975, the year that brought the end of the Vietnam war, one year after the resignation of Richard Nixon. A year later, Nancy Pelosi was chosen to serve on the Democratic National Committee. In every year since, A.C.T. has presented “A Christmas Carol.” No interruptions.

A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” went on in the year that Harvey Milk and George Moscone were assassinated, and the tragedy of Jonestown occurred. A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol,” continued, reliably, through the plague years. A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” hit the stage in the year of the Loma Prieta earthquake. A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” has comforted the locals in the years of the Tech Invasion, and for the Techies who have begun raising families, it has been the start of their San Francisco family Christmas Tradition.

Do you see a pattern to this review?

It is now the Time of Covid, and, yet again, A.C.T. has demonstrated that the show must and will go on. Like generations before them, an enthusiastic troupe of very young actors peoples the stage singing carols and enduring the wrath of Scrooge. For the umpteenth time, the old codger encounters good ol’ Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and to come. Tiny Tim survives.

In the current production are actors who have been returning to the A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” for decades. Yet, the actor making his debut as Tiny Tim (the truly excellent and charismatic James Coniglio) is a mere eight years old.

The very distinguished James Carpenter played Scrooge on opening night and he’ll alternate throughout the run with the equally distinguished Anthony Fusco. See one or the other, you’ll see Scrooge alive and kicking. Fusco is giving his 12th A.C.T. performance as the old reprobate. Carpenter has a similar record, although I couldn’t ascertain the exact number.

And there are newcomers as well. Brian Herndon,  a charming actor, makes his A.C.T. debut capering with delight as Mr. Fezziwig. Catherine Castellanos, already known to A.C.T. followers for several roles (notably Fefu in “Fefu And Her Friends”) makes her A.C.T. Christmas Carol debut as an emotionally devastating “Ghost of Christmas Present.”

But picking through this production with a critical eye is not the point here. Criticizing any production of “A Christmas Carol” is like trying to critique a Christmas tree. Any critique, good, bad, or indifferent, would certainly miss the point.

Christmas and “A Christmas Carol” are for celebrating. And nobody, not even Scrooge, keeps the spirit of Christmas alive like A.C.T.

What better gift, after the dark theatrical nights of the Covid epidemic, could San Francisco get for the holiday?

All a critic can really say is something like this: Thank you, A.C.T., for always being there when we have needed you, like  Dickens’ Ghosts, Past, Present, and (from my lips to God’s ears) Future.

God Bless Us, Everyone!

“A Christmas Carol” continues at A.C.T.’s Toni Rembe Theatre through December 24, 2022. 

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Rating: ***

(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, adapted by Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh. Music by Karl Lunderberg. Directed by Peter J. Kuo, based on the original direction Casey Perloff. Choreography: Val Caniparoli. Music Direction: Daniel Feyer. Scenic Designer: John Arnone. Costume Designer: Beaver Bauer. Lighting Designer: Nancy Schertler. Sound Designer: Jake Rodriguez. Dance Répétiteur: Nancy Dickson. Vocal Coach: Christine Adaire.

Featuring:

Tasi Alabastro. Vivian Amirault. Japser Bermudez. James Carpenter. Catherine Castellanos. John Chukwudelunzu. James Coniglio. Samara Edelstein. Evangeline Edwards. Steven Flores. Anthony Fusco. Cindy Goldfield. Brian Herndon. Dan Hiatt. Monique Hightower-Gaskin. Anya Jayaraman. Jeremy Kahn. Ayla Klasen. Adam Kuveniemann. Zia Libicki. Sharon Lockwood. Paloma Martinez Munsin. Paige Mayes. Melina J. C. Meniktas. James WDL Mercer II. Gia Moon. Emily Newsome. Amanda Le Nguyen. Sarita Ocón. Amber Rose Price. Xochitl Santillan. Samanvika Senthil Kumar. Laila Shahsavari. Anna Marie Sharpe. Howard Swain. Jomar Tagatac. B. Noel Thomas. Madeline Von Treskow. Rowen Weeramantry. Henry Wu.

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