We’re getting to that time of year when you can turn on the TV at almost any hour and catch some version of A Christmas Carol—whether it’s animated or live-action, Bill Murray or Muppets, black-and-white or color. Ebenezer Scrooge’s late-game conversion from robber baron to human being is maybe the most adapted story ever, and, like ol’ Scrooge, we’re all haunted by the many iterations we’ve absorbed over time (and may have sentimental memories about): The Ghosts of Christmas Carols Past.
This is exactly the situation that Reid Farrington’s multimedia rendition of the fable—an eerie seasonal treat, now ghosting around the Abrons Arts Center—dramatizes. Juxtaposing real actors with projected movie doppelgangers—thrown onto shifting screens, bedsheets, even handheld surfaces for projections on the fly—Farrington puts each well-known moment of Dickens’ tale in conversation with a stir of filmic echoes.
We get choruses of Cratchits, medleys of Marleys.
Channel-surfing through filmic history, his performers—an expert bunch, whether delivering plummy Victorian dialogue or channeling cinematic spirits—are stalked by the many famous actors who’ve embodied their roles before them. Sometimes they karaoke the familiar voices, sometimes they stand aside and let the images take over. We see and hear a who’s-who of notable Scrooges: Alistair Sim, Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine, Disney’s redoubtable animated duck. And, as we do, we’re pursued by our own memories of each Carol, and perhaps of the vanished holiday seasons when we watched—or re-watched—one or another of ’em. (I confess to a powerful fondness for the Muppet version). The piece reminds us that our idea of the story is really a collage, jigsawed together from lots of different Carols.
Some of the performers the piece resurrects from old movies are now undoubtedly dead and gone—making their flickering avatars the closest thing to actual ghosts you’re ever likely to see onstage. And other beloved actors are now much older. (Even sketchy outdated animations or bygone cartoon characters—remember Mr. Magoo?—acquire a kind of pathos.) As the evening goes on, the wavering effigies become a spectral meditation on mortality—one nearly as jolting as that delivered to Scrooge graveside by the last ghost.
Despite Farrington’s many layers of mediation, the Carol’s durable parable still comes through. We’re now living in an era that’s fast returning to near-Victorian levels of disparity between rich and poor, and it couldn’t hurt for most of us to reckon with the stark terms of Scrooge’s visions: to face our own fleetingness, and, in a time of unprecedented abundance and widening want, consider whether we’ve been behaving like the human beings we truly want to be.