For the first time in seven years — and the first time ever at the Wyly Theatre — the Dallas Theater Center is presenting a new version of A Christmas Carol. Artistic director Kevin Moriarty’s stage adaptation stresses musical life – and the harsh economic forces at work in Charles Dickens’ story.
Moriarty brings the Industrial Revolution clanking and sparking into A Christmas Carol. When “The Carol of the Bells” is sung as a segue from Dickens’ famous opening lines (Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. … Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail), the song begins with a metallic bang, hisses and whistles, all befitting Beowulf Boritt’s evocative set, which turns Scrooge’s office into a vast, gritty factory floor.
One half-expects Sweeney Todd to enter. Or better still, a steampunk Christmas Carol. With a few clever costuming tweaks, it could happen, and it’d actually be kind of cool.
But by centering Scrooge outside London’s red-brick business district and in what would more likely have been the industrialized Midlands, Moriarty has resolved a minor mystery in Dickens’ story: What does Scrooge do for a living?
We often assume he’s a banker; he’s often seen counting money in his “counting house.” But that just refers to the locked money room at the back of any establishment. Scrooge also seems to lend money at loansharking rates — but, again, many Victorians with money did that.
The fact is, for a critique of heartless capitalism, A Christmas Carol is relatively vague about what Scrooge — the iconic heartless capitalist — actually does. It’s never named or specified, and it’ not a simple or single oversight: The same is true for Mr. Fezziwig and Scrooge’s nephew Fred — Dickens doesn’t really seem to care much about these characters’ livelihoods.