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This season’s other new take on A Christmas Carol—the old reliable, from Ford’s Theatre, is playing this year at the Lansburgh Theatre while Ford’s is being renovated—comes courtesy of a troupe that usually gets described as reliably inventive. Surprising, then, that Synetic’s first pass at a story as atmospheric as Dickens’ comes off feeling a little undercooked.
It’s not that there’s no style, just that it feels like a slightly slapdash effort, with gestures recycled from earlier, better shows and a slacker sense of energy than usual. Paata Tsikurishvili, the troupe’s artistic chief, joked in a curtain speech on opening night that he’d worried about finding common ground between the “family values” of a show like A Christmas Carol and Synetic’s values—which he didn’t number, but which if memory serves include a substantial appetite for darkness, eroticism, and vividly visualized stage violence.
There’s not much eroticism here, but there is a certain amount of deftly handled violence. And the darkness is there in the Dickens, not least in the language with which he first describes his benighted protagonist:
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.…The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.…He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
And the same darkness marks the scene, often skipped in stage versions, that introduces Scrooge to Want and Ignorance, the two monstrous children huddling under the robes of Christmas Present. To their credit, Tsikurishvili & Co. do well by that passage; they do less justice to the text in general, which is perhaps to be expected in a company so thoroughly grounded in thrilling movement. Maybe next year they’ll revisit A Christmas Carol—with an eye for more movement and less talk, with a little less reverence for the barnacles of sentiment that have accrued to the tale over the years and a more voracious appetite for the grimness of its still-piercing critiques. Now that would be a Christmas present this critic, anyway, would welcome.