by Brenda W. Clough
I discovered recently that my son has never seen or read A Christmas Carrol. As an English major and a writer, I feel I have neglected him sadly. Also, although he was born and has lived within twenty miles of the site, he has never seen Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. This state of affairs cannot be tolerated, and luckily I was able to deal with both issues by taking him to see the annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol there.
After the assassination the theater was closed, and used as warehouse space for more than a hundred years. It was only refurbished and reopened as a performance space in 1968. I remember attending one of the first productions there, Godspell on tour. Over the years they’ve restored the theater to almost exactly what it was when Lincoln visited it. (All the usual handicap access and electrical additions may be assumed.) The President’s Box is as it was on April 14, 1865, and a delicious legend (promulgated I am certain by the theater management) is that on occasion you may glimpse a tall top-hatted shadow, in the back of the box.
I am almost certain that the ghost of Mr. Lincoln does not need to catch A Christmas Carol. Ford’s has been running this production during the holiday season since 2009, and it’s a consistent sell-out show. After all these years of honing and polishing it is just about a perfect show. All the essential Dickens material is there, plus a good many dances, added Christmas carols and English folk songs, and a good modern dollop of PC. Have a look up at that photograph of the Ghost of Christmas Present there — isn’t she perfect?
And there’s a reason why this book is Dickens’ most popular work. We need to hear this, and once a year is not too often: that it is essential to our humanity to love each other. That society only works, if we care for our fellows. That love is bigger than hate, that a big heart is a better treasure than gold. Dickens was no fan of established religion, and A Christmas Carol has no references to the birth of Christ at all. But he hung onto the most important message.
It is hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the holidays, and the entire run usually sells out in a heartbeat. It is hard to imagine how they could extend the run — already they start before Thanksgiving and go until New Year’s Eve. But I could imagine them packing the house for six months, easy. Well worth catching — they’ll do it forever, so all you need to do is be in DC anywhere near the holiday season.