"A Christmas Carol" for all ages

Mike Lawler (Jacob Marley) and Kim Bennett (Ebenezer Scrooge) performed in the 2005 Actors Theatre production of "A Christmas Carol" and will reprise these rolls for the 2010 run

Enjoying both Dickens’ classic tale and the stage adaptation presented by Actors Theatre for nearly two decades have long been part of our family holiday tradition.

This year’s cast includes plenty of familiar names, including two Valley actors Lizabeth performed with at Greasepaint Youtheatre when she was in grade school — Natalie Ellis (Nurse) of Scottsdale and Maxx Carlisle-King (Young Scrooge) of Phoenix.

There’s also Robert Kolby Harper (Bob Cratchit) of Phoenix, who Lizabeth has enjoyed working with at Phoenix Theatre thanks to their Arizona School for the Arts partnership — and Manuela Needhammer (Hair and Make-up Design), who was Lizabeth’s art teacher at Desert View Learning Center.

Chelsea Groen (L), who performed the role of "Fan" in the 2005 Actors Theatre production, first performed in the Valley at age 5 in a Greasepaint Youtheatre production of "Hansel and Gretel" (my own daughter Jennifer was also in that GY cast)

Just last season, we got to know young Valley actor Christopher Moffitt, who previously performed the role of Tiny Tim with Actors Theatre, when he and Lizabeth were part of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “Oliver!” cast (Moffitt was the orphaned boy Oliver).

I spoke recently with two of the cast members who’ve performed in “A Christmas Carol” for many years — a mother and son, Stephanie and Casey Likes, of Chandler.

They shared with me — as did Matthew Wiener, the company’s artistic director — that “A Christmas Carol” is a morality tale meaningful in many times and places.

It’s about a change of heart experienced by the miserly Scrooge, and the impact this change of heart has on those around him, including the ailing Tiny Tim.

But I stumbled on another layer of the work the other day while reading a book titled “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster.

The 2005 cast of "A Christmas Carol" enjoys a bit of fuzzywig dancing -- a stress-buster others might wish to consider this holiday season

Foster begins chapter 13 (“It’s All Political”) by noting that Dickens “was actually attacking a widely held political belief” in 1843.

“The tale,” writes Foster, “attacks one way of thinking about our social responsibility and valorizes another.”

Seems the Puritanism of the two previous centuries was seized upon by “British social thinker” Thomas Malthus. Foster cites Malthus’ belief that by “helping the poor…we would in fact encourage an increase in the number of the impoverished.”

It’s a view not so different from that held by some of America’s contemporary candidates and commentators.

You may or may not agree with Foster’s assertion that “Dickens is a social critic, but he’s a sneaky one.” Or Foster’s belief that “nearly all writing is political on some level.”

For Foster, political writing “engages the realities of its world” and “thinks about human problems, including those of the social and political realm….”

Kim Bennett as Scrooge in the 2005 production of "A Christmas Carol" by Actors Theatre. Head to the Herberger Theater Center Dec 4-24 to enjoy his performance in the 2010 production

When my children were very young, going to see “A Christmas Carol” was all about enjoying a good bit of storytelling that transported us to another place and time.

Before long they were old enough to consider Scrooge’s individual shortcomings and discuss the implications for their own behavior.

Now that all are young adults, they can enjoy it from a whole other perspective — with an eye towards social, economic and political conditions of Dickens’ day.

Experiencing "A Chistmas Carol" with family and friends may inspire you to try your own twirling dance like the one performed here during the 2005 production

And they can take it a step further, wondering about possible parallels with contemporary thought and public policy — considering lessons Dickens lends to a global community in a modern world.

“A Christmas Carol” is still a well-loved holiday tradition — but it’s so much more.

Explore the many wonders of this tale for all ages as Actors Theatre presents their adaptation for a final season.

You’ll still miss it when it’s gone, but at least you’ll enjoy the special spirit of this season’s production as we all prepare to say goodbye.


Photos, by Jeff Kida, courtesy of Actors Theatre of Phoenix

Note: Click here to learn more about “A Christmas Carol” performed by Actors Theatre — as well as their current production of “In the Next Room” (through Nov 14). Other 2010-2011 season offerings include “This” (Jan 21-Feb 6, 2011), “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” (March 4-20, 2011) and “Circle Mirror Transformation” (April 22-May 8, 2011).

Coming up: Dancing your way through the holidays — plus a show that left Lizabeth saying “My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.”