Charles Dickens’ yuletide classic, “A Christmas Carol,” has been an essential part of my holiday celebration for as long as I can remember — enjoying both televised versions and staged productions.
And with Washington’s own Craig Wallace returning in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, D.C.’s celebrated Ford’s Theatre brings its rendering of “A Christmas Carol,” which will mark its 500th performance of the company’s Michael Wilson adaptation of the holiday classic, to the stage. The play, directed by Michael Baron, runs through Dec. 31.
The play features plenty of traditional holiday tunes, beautiful costumes and outstanding special effects. And the three “ghosts” who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve are sure to capture the attention of children and adults alike. But it’s the acting prowess of Wallace and the rest of the cast, including an ensemble of delightful children that propel the production forward and keep the action going.
Wallace dons the Ford’s Theatre stage once more after recently starring there as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” He says the Christmas classic, which has been presented at Ford’s for more than 35 years, still remains relevant despite the story being published some 175 years ago.
“We’re facing an era in history when the need for compassion is at an all-time high,” he said. “It’s about reaching out, not staying in your own space but giving. If you have something you give, you must share it. That’s the foundation of the play.”
“Christmas is the foundation by which those ideas come forth. But it’s really an everyday thing. We should be reaching out, trying to share and communicate so that we can come together instead of fostering divisiveness. And you don’t have to do this on a global stage. We can give and share in our neighborhoods, within our families. However, today the tendency seems to be about getting what’s yours, like Scrooge.”
Wallace noted that Ford’s Theatre has partnered with the House of Ruth, a nonprofit organization in Northwest that supports women and families caught in the throes of abuse.
“People have been very positive and moved by the show and in many ways the production moves like a well-oiled machine — we’re just churning shows out,” he said. “We ask audiences to leave a donation for the House of Ruth at the end of each production and we’ve been getting a tremendous response. I see it as a testament of what the audiences have seen and so they give a little more.”
As for the children actors, he laughed when remembering his first encounter during rehearsals with the young thespians.
“They were first a little afraid of me but they’re finally warming up to me especially after they realize that I’m really not ‘that’ guy [Scrooge],” Wallace said. “They’re troupers, they’re smart and I’ve been amazed at how carefully they listen. This is a demanding show but whenever the adults like me get tired, we just look at them. They breathe constant energy and life into the show.”
It’s difficult to overlook the fact that the lead character, Scrooge, has been cast in the Ford’s production as a Black man. But for the role of the younger Scrooge, the actor is white. I asked Wallace to share his views.
“It’s a valid question and observation but we’re trying to do something else — Ford’s Theatre is committed to diversity and having people of all colors on stage. In ‘Death of a Salesman,’ both of my children and my wife were white actors. We wanted to tell this story with as many people of diverse backgrounds as possible. I just hope that the diversity which we offer doesn’t keep anyone from enjoying the show. It’s our belief that when people see actors on stage that look like them, they feel more encouraged. When you see a production at Ford’s Theatre, we can assure you that you’ll see members of the cast who look just like you.”
“As for my character, Ebenezer Scrooge, I am not playing white and don’t feel I need to. I am who I am. I just take the script before me and work to create this amazingly complicated character. And I have a lot of fun along the way,” said Wallace who has little time to rest after the end of the current play, already set to appear early next year in “The Great Society” at Arena Stage and “‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys” at Round House Theatre.
For more information about “A Christmas Carol,” visit www.fords.org.