By Anying Guo
The holiday season is adorned with theatrical traditions, but there’s nothing quite like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the timeless tale of the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. Ford’s Theatre has produced the play annually during the holiday season for 35 years.
Year-round, Ford’s Theatre is a home for diverse stage adaptations, and acclaimed actor Craig Wallace — returning for a second year in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge — notes that part of the theater’s mission is to have “faces of color onstage.”
“What’s important about that, just like what is important about me playing Scrooge, is that someone can come to this that isn’t a white person … [and] still be able to connect with the character and story, because there’s someone up there who looks like them,” Wallace said.
The commitment to diversity is one Ford’s takes seriously. “‘A Christmas Carol’ is a universal story — it’s about love, redemption and community — a story we are proud to tell onstage utilizing this compelling and diverse company of actors,” said Patrick Pearson, the theater’s director of artistic programming.
Wallace finds that the cast changes from last year have brought fresh energy into the production. “When new people come in, it’s new life,” he said. “You’re hearing lines for the first time, in a new way, and the energy is amped up.”
Ford’s Theatre has been performing Michael Wilson’s adaptation of the Dickens classic since 2009. Wallace cites his colleague and friend Edward Gero — the actor who originated Wilson’s Scrooge — as having helped him develop his approach to the character. Wallace, who starred in this fall’s “Death of a Salesman” at Ford’s, finds a timelessness in Dickens’ infamous character.
“Scrooge is not mean for mean’s sake,” said Wallace. “He’s just bereft. And he’s not the sort of miserly, broken-down man like the typical stereotypes of Scrooge.”
Wallace finds the magic in the character not only through his well-known journey with the three ghosts but also by tracing Scrooge’s early life.
“By Scrooge being a moneylender, that means you have to pay more attention to him,” he said. “He wasn’t paid attention to as a child, but now he holds the power of money, so [people] have to pay attention to him.”
Wallace sees the beauty of his character’s story arc as allowing the audience to understand that loneliness, and then the possibility of redemption by reflection into Scrooge’s past, present and future. As the character realizes that money is not tied to love and happiness, the audience is able to experience the realization as well. Within the context of the country and world today, Wallace believe’s Scrooge’s journey is particularly relevant.
“He realizes that life is not about just things; it’s about love, hope, spirit,” said Wallace. “It may seem naïve, but it’s great to be reminded of that.”
The Ford’s Theatre Society partners with a different D.C. charity each year on its performances of “A Christmas Carol.” In years past, it has teamed up with So Others Might Eat, Thrive DC, Food & Friends, N Street Village and more. This year, Ford’s will partner with House of Ruth, an organization that provides comprehensive housing, services and resources for those healing from domestic abuse. Since 2009, the society has raised more than $639,000 for local charities. Combined with the play’s lasting message, the charitable partnership may make these performances even more meaningful.
“A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre will open Nov. 16 and run until Dec. 31 in a year that will mark the production’s 500th performance. Directed by Paul R. Tetreault, who has been with the theater since 2004, Ford’s Theatre’s iteration of “A Christmas Carol” is not one to pass up this holiday season. Tickets are available now at fords.org/calendar.
This article was produced by arts nonprofit Day Eight through a partnership with The Current.