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That miser Scrooge gives much in this season's 'Christmas Carol'

THEATER REVIEW: "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre ★★★

Chris Jones

2:53 PM CST, November 28, 2011

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This is a very good year for the Goodman Theatre's "A Christmas Carol." And I speak as one who has imbibed many different vintages — more than a dozen, just counting the Goodman Theatre version — of this particular seasonal grape.

That's partly due to the state of the economy — cold comfort, dear reader, I know — and the ease with which old Ebenezer now stands in for bankers and lenders getting big personal payouts while we average chestnut sellers can't get a raise to feed our Tiny Tims. In past years, I've often been nagged by the question of why dear old Bob Cratchit (still the moving Ron Rains, with the deliciously caustic Karen Janes Woditsch as his wife) stayed in Scrooge's counting house and suffered such abuse. That really doesn't come up this year; we inherently understand he wouldn't want to risk throwing away his "situation," to use the Dickensian terminology. How many clerk's jobs were even out there? And at least Scrooge was, Charles Dickens carefully notes, a very competent moneylender (with rough interest rates, but no junk fees). In the "Christmas Carol" update in my mind, even this miser is appalled at the rewards given for failure, or for racking and ruining our modern-day Fezziwigs.

The Goodman takes great care that none of that befalls "Carol," long its high-end and well-produced holiday moneyspinner (tickets now top out at $92). I'm on record as saying that I think this big but tired physical production could use an overhaul, and the dramatic adaptation some freshening, and nothing I saw Sunday night changed my mind. But the heart of this show is human interaction, and Steve Scott, who returns to directing duties this year, has created an especially heartfelt, sweeping and poignant show, mostly by some savvy new casting (Elizabeth Ledo, who lands somewhere between the late actress Mary Martin and a punk cherub, is a great addition as the previously problematic Ghost of Christmas Past) and by allowing the actors to take a little more time between their oh-so-familiar lines.

The scene where Larry Yando's Scrooge arrives for dinner at his nephew's house — both Yando and Joe Minoso, who plays Fred this year, embrace this climatic moment — is especially touching, because Yando shows us how much it costs his guy and Minoso how much it means. And, for those of us who would like to make some post-facto changes to our personal roster of past decision-making, so is the gut-wrenching scene where Old Scrooge yells ineffectually at his younger self (played with a dark demeanor by Jarrod Zimmerman) as he makes the mistake that he will regret for the rest of his life.

Last year's "Christmas Carol" starred John Judd, an actor whom I consider one of the very finest in Chicago. But he's not a natural Scrooge. Yando, who has returned to the annual task of staring into your own grave, is a consummate Ebenezer. He's my favorite through all these years, along with Tom Mula; both men understand that the role needs to embrace both the darkest truths of life (starting with the way time cannot be reclaimed) and embrace the unfettered theatricality of seasonal optimism.

Perhaps refreshed by the year off, Yando is especially rich and definitive this year. It looks to me like this formidable Chicago actor is keeping himself challenged by adding different layers of transformation — deepening the metaphoric role of this most famous and familiar character and exploring other ways in which we can hide and subjugate our true selves, and the joyous relief that comes when we finally decide to embrace our truth. It should be a fascinating preparation for when Yando takes on the role of Roy Cohn, no less, in "Angels in America" at Court Theatre this spring. Even Marley would have struggled with him.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through Dec. 31

Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.

Running time: 2 hours

Tickets: $25-$92 at 312-443-3800 and goodmantheatre.org