DECEMBER 20, 2018 – Can “A Christmas Carol” be a story of teshuvah (“repentance”)? Award-winning Jewish actor Jeremiah Kissel thinks so, proclaiming that, “You could do the story during the Aseret Yemay Teshuvah [the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur].”
Kissel plays Ebenezer Scrooge, who is ultimately forced to repent for his life’s decisions, in a joint presentation of the Charles Dickens classic by The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge.
Kissel, who attends Temple Emunah in Lexington, sees Jewish connections everywhere in “A Christmas Carol.” He feels that the notion of teshuvah is at the core of a play that teaches that “the worst among us has a core of goodness.” Kissel also believes that Tikkun Olam [the Jewish concept of fixing the world] informs the story. “I start to frame the story as a parable of hurt. You perform Tikkun Olam by channeling hurt back into the world,” he said.
“God’s not a character in this particular story,” said Kissel. “It reminds me of the Megillah [where God’s name is not mentioned]. It’s about humanity.” Kissel also pointed out that both Scrooge and Marley have Jewish names: Ebenezer comes from the Hebrew for “rock or stone of God”, and Marley means “it is bitter to me,” which ties in well with the bitter life the character leads.
Under the skillful guidance of Underground Railway Theater Artistic Director Debra Wise, Dickens’ insights on human nature begin pessimistically, but end on a more hopeful note. Designer David Fichter surrounds the theater with a mural of shops and buildings that transports the audience to Victorian London, complete with an eye-catching Punch and Judy show from puppeteer Charlotte Anne Dore. Susan Dibble and Mesma Belsare’s choreography of Mr. Fezziwig’s holiday celebration and a party at Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s home is lively and joyful. John Malinowski’s nuanced lighting gives the play’s many ghosts a haunting glow.
But it is Kissel’s performance as Scrooge that truly stands out. He brings a rich giddiness to the transformation of Scrooge from a bah, humbug miser, to a vulnerable loner, to a joyful and joy-spreading friend and relative. Brooks Reeves brings a nervous diffidence to his role as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s counting-house employee. Paris Ellsworth proves a talented double threat as indomitably genial nephew Fred and a scene-enhancing violinist. Kortney Adams is effectively understated as Belle, Scrooge’s ex-fiancée. Jewish fifth-grader Jonah Cramer has appealing spirit and cheeriness as Tiny Tim.
Julia Tara Springer is an affecting Ghost of Christmas Past who doubles as a talented ballerina. Ramona Lisa Alexander delivers the late, enchained Jacob Marley’s dire warning to Scrooge with impressively deep resonance. Vincent Ernest Siders spreads the merriment of the Ghost of Christmas Present with expansive body language and hearty inflection.
In her director’s notes, Wise observes that, “For Dickens, it seems, it is not enough to respect childhood. One must be like a child.” Nora and Underground Railways’ fetching edition of “A Christmas Carol” does both.
“A Christmas Carol” will play at the Central Square Theater through Dec. 30. Call 617-576-9278 or go to centralsquaretheater.org.