‘A Christmas Carol’ Still Pulls Out the Wows at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Prepare to be amazed, scared and delighted by the reimagining of “A Christmas Carol” at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. This production, which runs through Dec. 26, marks the 30th anniversary of the first staging of the play at the Rep.

First and foremost, let me offer a small caveat to this review. I have a degree in English literature as well as my journalism degree. So I really tend to be a tad biased when companies stage Shakespeare, Dickens and the like. However, I was excited to see the play. I took my husband and daughter. She’s a fifth-grader who revels in ghost stories. We talked before hand that Director Kyle Hatley had warned that his imaginative directing was going to take Ebenezer Scrooge on a darker journey than perhaps other directors offer up.

That sort of inky terror is made rather clear from the beginning. The set is almost charcoal in nature, mirroring the words of Charles Dickens and his description of the bleak and dark December streets of London. It’s a great rotating set that offering ease in scene changes and heightens  the drama. Even the act of Charles Fugate, who plays Dickens and narrates the play, lighting his candle made me applaud the tiniest flame in such a dreary world. By the way, my daughter enjoyed his narration and voice. The illustrious Gary Neal Johnson, sitting there at his desk, as Scrooge, miserable in his greed echoes the coldness, which tortures his warm-hearted employee Bob Cratchit, played by Walter Coppage. The mood and the lead characters were well established.

Now let’s get to Jacob Marley. Mark Robbins was scary. His face appears on the door as Scrooge turns the key to enter his own house. My daughter turned into my shoulder and I knew we were in for a more sinister take of Marley. I must have blinked at just the right moment because Marley was suddenly there on the stage, in front of Scrooge. While his chains weren’t the typical money boxes and larger chains that I think of and that Dickens describes, the chains are many and rattling. Robbins swung them with ferocity. At one point, Marley even extends his point by wrapping one of the chains around Scrooge’s neck to keep the miser’s attention. It sure got mine.

Katie Kalahurka plays the Ghost of Christmas Past. She has the ethereal quality that so many women have offered up before her when they have played this role. The images of the past are haunting and I enjoyed the take on the heartrending thread that runs through Scrooge’s past. The boy child who says he doesn’t mind being alone. The young man who also makes the same comment after his first love leaves and then the petulant adult loner who seems to reassure himself that he needs no one.  It was an impactful thought that as much as the man has shut out the world, perhaps some shut him out too.

My daughter adored the Ghost of Christmas Present. We sat close enough that when he takes his stroll through the audience, we got a good look at him. Jim Gall embraces that green robe and the almost brandied-warming laugh that one expects from the Ghost of Christmas Present. One of my favorite scenes is the visit with the Cratchit family. The meager family dinner and the joy of simply being a family are cherished concepts. I couldn’t help but think about how we need to do better to enjoy being with those we love and care for rather than stockpiling up things and trinkets, especially during Christmas. It’s true that Dickens and his social justice still ring as true in 2010 as the words did in 1843. Again, Want and Ignorance are hidden under the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. It still is a scene that should stick in any audience member’s mind.

The Ghost of Christmas Future, played by Matthew Rapport, proved just as chilling as the grave scenes created on the stage. At one point in the scene where the Cratchit family visits Tiny Tim’s grave site, the sound seemed to fade out. It might have been my ears, but the scene didn’t lack as Coppage pulled out the grief of a father who had to bury his frail little boy. I will admit that I had a few tears trailing down my cheeks. Rapport is also a big enough man, in the black hooded robe of the Ghost of Christmas Future, to hide Scrooge’s tombstone so when the ghost  moves asid e, the  audience seems to see it right along with Scrooge. It’s a powerful scene.

So did I like the play? You bet. My own holiday spirit has been lacking some, but the play helped rekindle some spirit. I picked up another copy of the novella so my daughter and I can read it before bed. Something tells me that we have started a new tradition with her – here’s looking forward to another 30 years of “A Christmas Carol” at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.


Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

Leave a Reply