“Bah! Humbug!” snarls Ebenezer Scrooge, responding to a request for Christmas charity for the poor. “Are there no prisons?… And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?”
First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol still brings a tear to the eye, but underneath the moral transformation of the old skinflint, however, lurks the eternal drama of families at holiday time.
Dickens contrasted Scrooge’s bile with the love and warmth of Bob Cratchett, Scrooge’s employee, and his family celebrating joyfully despite the possibly fatal illness of young Tim, and the cheerfulness of his nephew, Fred, happily married and still reaching out to his uncle. Scrooge lucks out after visions of an inevitable dark future displayed by Christmas ghosts turn him into a happy, tradition-loving man.
In addition to the Guthrie’s latest production of Carol, there was also the production down the hall of James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. On the McGuire Proscenium stage it was also Christmas: Chinon, France, 1183. Not one Scrooge there, but an entire family of royal dysfunctionals to delight and appall. Father, Henry II, and Mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, let out of her dungeon hold for the holidays, cozy up with their three squabbling monarch-wannabe sons and Alais Capet, 23, mistress of the 50-year-old Henry. What could go wrong? The play is not a historical drama but Goodman’s fictionalized look into 12th-century domestic turmoil, a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on the parapets — and equally compelling.
The Guthrie’s co-staging of the two provided the viewer food for thought about his or her own home relationships, and just what it is that makes families stick together, even if one member is kept imprisoned.
Scrooge pranced jubilantly into the light, while Henry and Eleanor (in Goodman’s version) moved their chess pieces right to the end; check and no mate. As Eleanor was about to be shipped back to England, Henry spoke: “We’re in the cellar and you’re going back to prison and my life is wasted and we’ve lost each other and you’re smiling.” Eleanor, never at a loss for words, replied, “It’s the way I register despair. There’s everything in life but hope.”
Now that you’ve survived the holidays, remember in this new year: Hold your family close and watch your back.